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Court application for right of legal counsel – No definition of “reasonable time”?

By Terry Xu

Local human rights lawyer, Mr M Ravi had filed a court application earlier on to challenge the denial of right of access to lawyers 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 by the Malaysian police, on 4 November, and charged in Singapore on 5 November and has been police custody since then.

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.

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.

The application was heard in court on Friday.

Mr Ravi argued that the right to legal counsel is a constitutional right under article 9(3) of the Singapore constitution  –

“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 prosecution countered Mr Ravi’s argument by stating that there is no definition of what a “reasonable time period” is for legal counsel to be allowed.

Mr Ravi expressed his difficulties in representing his client as he is being denied access to his client and that he has been unable to receive any instructions from his client apart from reading facial gestures from him in court.

The prosecution in turn argued that Mr Ravi could have asked permission to have the instructions by his client to be conveyed to him through the court. Mr Ravi disagreed, saying that it is a violation of his client’s rights.

High Court judge Justice Choo Han Teck dismissed the request for immediate legal counsel by Mr Ravi as the case has already overlapped the time frame of “immediate” and asked both the prosecution and the defence to file submissions on what the reasonable time is for an accused person to have access to legal counsel.

Justice Choo allowed Mr Ravi to speak to James Raj for a few minutes after the hearing with no objection from the prosecution.

In a comment said by Mr Ravi during and after the court session, he asked if Singapore is regressing in terms of human rights given that citizens seemingly enjoyed more rights under the colonial rule by the British where they were given the right of legal counsel.