Lawyer M Ravi has filed a court application this morning (13 Nov Tues) on the matter of the constitutional right of access to counsel, on behalf of his client, James Raj Arokiasamy.
James Raj is alleged to be the person behind “The Messiah”, who is being charged with making “an unauthorised modification” of the contents of the Ang Mo Kio Town Council website on 28 October 2013.
He was arrested in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 4 November, and charged in Singapore on 5 November.
Together with the hacking charge, he is also being charged with 3 counts of the offence of Consumption of Controlled Drugs under Section 8(b) of the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The court had granted a one week remand then for the police to conduct further investigations.
Mr Ravi’s application today – Wednesday, 13 November – is asking the court to adjudicate on the “Fundamental Liberties” guaranteed under Article 9 (3) of the Singapore Constitution which says:
“Where a person is arrested, he shall be informed as soon as may be of the grounds of his arrest and shall be allowed to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice.”
The application is seeking a declaration from the court that under Article 9 (3), there is an immediate right to counsel upon the request of a person remanded for investigations.
It also asks the court to grant Mr Ravi immediate access to James Raj.
In the application, Mr Ravi related how he was contacted by James Raj through an acquaintance of James Raj on 11 November.
Despite several requests to the police, including the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), on the same day and immediately upon being asked to represent James Raj, Mr Ravi was denied access to his client.
On 12 November, at the hearing where James Raj was being charged, Mr Ravi had asked the Court for permission to speak to his client for a few minutes.
However, the prosecution made two applications to the court, namely:
- That James Raj be denied access to third parties, including in court;
- That James Raj be remanded at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH)
Mr Ravi protested the prosecution’s application on the grounds that his client’s constitutional rights under Article 9 (3) were being ignored.
“I emphasised to the Court that the Prosecution’s application to deny me access in Court is a further violation of Article 9 (3) of the Constitution which clearly spells out [the] right to immediate access to counsel,” Mr Ravi’s application today says.
“Counsels should be given access to accused persons at least 48 hours after arrest and I submitted that 48 hours should be treated as a reasonable period to access to accused persons. To this extent, it is my understanding that this is the current position which was borne out of discussions between the Criminal Bar and the Attorney-General’s Chambers.”
Mr Ravi had also told the Court that “it is a grave concern that the accused person’s statements are taken whilst the applicant’s mental state is called into question and to make matters worse, he is being charged in court.”
“I should have thought that the police ought to have desisted from recording a statement from the applicant if his mental state is called into question,” Mr Ravi says.
“Hence the applicant’s right to counsel becomes even more crucial given his vulnerability at police custody.”
In addition, Mr Ravi’s court application says, James Raj has also raised the issue of his being assaulted while in police custody. This, Mr Ravi says, adds to the urgency of his client being given access to counsel.
“It becomes even more important that counsel is allowed to take immediate instructions from the applicant in respect of these allegations as they are serious and cause for great concern,” Mr Ravi says.
James Raj was reported by the Straits Times, 13 Nov, to have told the court: “Everything is quite biased against me at the moment… I would feel quite comfortable if I could speak to my lawyer.”
In a press release, Mr Ravi says:
“To defend the practice of denying the accused his right to consult a legal practitioner, the public prosecutor’s office has relied on a nearly 20 year-old High Court decision. However, human rights standards globally have evolved towards granting the accused with immediate access to counsel, as reflected in statements issued by United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, ‘All persons are entitled to call upon the assistance of a lawyer of their choice to protect and establish their rights and to defend them in all stages of criminal proceedings.’”
“Certainly Singapore citizens should be entitled to at least this basic safeguard of having access to counsel within 48 hours of their arrest at the latest,” Mr Ravi says.
Mr Ravi is asking for the hearing to be fixed on Monday.
In the meantime, the Court on Tuesday ordered James Raj to be remanded at the IMH for psychiatric evaluation. It has also granted the prosecution’s application to deny third parties access to James Raj – till 26 November when the case will be heard again.
Press release from M Ravi’s desk:
COURT APPLICATION CHALLENGES DENIAL OF RIGHT OF ACCESS TO LAWYERS
Court asked how long Singaporeans can lawfully be denied access to a lawyer after arrest
SINGAPORE, November 13, 2013>>>>> An application is being filed today in Singapore’s High Court on behalf of Mr James Raj S/O Arokiasmy, to seek a declaration from the Court that immediate access to an attorney by an individual accused of a crime is a Constitutionally protected right.
Article 9(3) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore provides that, “Where a person is arrested, he shall be informed as soon as may be of the grounds of his arrest and shall be allowed to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice.” However, at present, the current practice employed by the police and supported by the public prosecutor allows for Singaporeans to be detained by authorities for up to 14 days without allowing the accused to consult with an attorney.
To defend the practice of denying the accused his right to consult a legal practitioner, the public prosecutor’s office has relied on a nearly 20 year-old High Court decision. However, human rights standards globally have evolved towards granting the accused with immediate access to counsel, as reflected in statements issued by United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, “All persons are entitled to call upon the assistance of a lawyer of their choice to protect and establish their rights and to defend them in all stages of criminal proceedings.”
“Certainly Singapore citizens should be entitled to at least this basic safeguard of having access to counsel within 48 hours of their arrest at the latest” asserted human rights lawyer, Mr M Ravi, counsel for Mr James Raj.
The application filed today will determine the rights of all Singapore citizens with regards to their constitutional right to access to counsel. The High Court is being asked to review the current practices of arrest and denial of access to consult a legal practitioner and to make a determination as to whether Singapore citizens have a right to this minimum safeguard of the right to due process and a fair trial.
Mr James Raj was taken into police custody last week. He was detained for questioning and denied access to an attorney throughout his interrogation by police. Yesterday, Mr Raj appeared before the Subordinate Court where he was denied the request to consult with his lawyer, Mr M Ravi. The Court ordered that Mr Raj would be further remanded in the Forensic Unit of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for up to 2 weeks, in spite of Mr Raj’s objections. Mr Ravi has been informed that his client will not have access to his lawyer while remanded in IMH.
At 2:30 pm today the Registrar of the High Court will determine a date to be fixed for the hearing in this matter. Our office will be able to update the media upon notification of a hearing date.
Please find the application filed in Court today attached for your attention.