By Tan Wah Piow
A Canadian Human Rights organisation, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), has written to the Disciplinary Tribunal of the Law Society of Singapore on 19 August urging it to “to dismiss the complaints currently alleged against human rights lawyer Mr M Ravi by the Law Society of Singapore”.
LRWC is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations (UN). Part of their work is to advocate on behalf of lawyers whose rights, safety or independence are threatened as a result of their human rights work.
Over the past 18 years, M Ravi is one of the few Singapore lawyers who is willing to take up causes which run against the grain of the authoritarian state. In the words of LRWC, Ravi has an “impressive record of providing effective and necessary legal representation for clients and causes unpopular with the Government of Singapore”.
His case before the Disciplinary Tribunal was triggered by a relapse in his bipolar condition. Ostensibly, the Law Society is concerned as to whether he is fit to practise law given his mental condition.
LRWC concerns over the Law Society’s handling of M Ravi’s medical condition are set out in the following paragraphs:
Mr. Ravi has completed the requested medical examination with Dr. Winslow, who indicated in a report dated 22 July 2015, that during the material times when the impugned behaviour was alleged to have taken place, Mr. Ravi was suffering from Bipolar I Disorder, and experiencing a hypo manic episode. Dr. Winslow concluded that this was a “substantial cause” of Mr. Ravi’s offending conduct.
An additional letter by Dr. Winslow, dated 11 April 2015, indicated that Mr. Ravi’s condition had stabilized by April 2015 and that there was no further evidence of his bipolar order being in relapse. Dr. Winslow indicated that together he and Mr. Ravi were developing a strategy to avoid any episodes in the future. Dr. Winslow concluded that Mr. Ravi “would not be likely to act or behave in ways detrimental to himself or the profession” and proposed a meeting with the Law Society of Singapore to work out a framework to address the Law Society’s concerns.
LRWC is concerned that, although Mr. Ravi was directed by the Law Society to meet specifically with Dr. Winslow, and although Mr. Ravi complied with this direction and Dr. Winslow has, in fact, examined Mr. Ravi and provided written evidence, it recently came to our attention that at the Disciplinary Hearing the Law Society of Singapore intends to call additional psychiatric evidence from one or more individuals who have no relationship with Mr. Ravi and have never interviewed him. Of further concern, Mr. Ravi has not been notified as to the type or nature that these new witnesses will give, fundamentally affecting the fairness of the hearing.
LRWC submits that the expert evidence of Dr. Winslow, which is grounded in Dr. Winslow’s assessment of Mr. Ravi’s individual condition, should be given greater weight than to any evidence based on statistical or hypothetical premises. Although statistical information can predict a general pattern of performance by a large population, it cannot predict individual performance. Even as a predictor of trends, any statistical information will depend upon prescribed set of circumstances and should not carry any weight in a particular individual’s situation unless the prescribed circumstances are proven in the individual case.
LRWC urged the Disciplinary Tribunal of the Law Society of Singapore to take particular care to avoid the appearance of being subjected to and influenced by, pressure from government officials seeking to prevent M Ravi from returning to the practice of law.
It also urged the Disciplinary Tribunal to “take care that its review and decision does not demonstrate or suggest discrimination against Mr Ravi on the basis of his disability”.
The only just result, LRWC argued “is for M. Ravi to be allowed to continue to practice law in Singapore and that any other decision would be contrary to fairness for M. Ravi and the public interest.”
LRWC relied on the following key factors to justify their conclusion:
- The medical evidence of Dr. Winslow and the expert opinion of Dr. Winslow that the behaviour complained of is unlikely to reoccur;
- M. Ravi’s willingness to work cooperatively with the Law Society to address any further medical concerns; and,
- M. Ravi’s long history or providing necessary and proficient legal services to the people of Singapore.
The Disciplinary Tribunal has the power to revoke M Ravi’s right to practise as a lawyer in Singapore. If this were to happen, it will further diminish this rare breed of human rights lawyers in Singapore.
The LRWC has raised an issue of public interests, and I hope readers can use this forum to express their opinions.
If you agree with LRWC’s concerns, do write in to the Disciplinary Tribunal, 1 Supreme Court Lane, Singapore 178879, fax: 011 65 6332 4061, and inform LRWC of your views.