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Law Minister helps accused man find a lawyer

"I don’t think people will therefore assume that I or the lawyer condone cruelty to animals," Law Minister, K Shanmugam, said in a Facebook post on Sunday.

He was referring to his involvement in helping to find a lawyer for the man accused of killing a cat in Yishun, where Mr Shanmugam is also a Member of Parliament (MP).

40-year old Lee Wai Leong was charged on 30 December in the case of hurling a cat 13 floors to its death in Yishun in October last year.

He is the first person to be charged under the new Animals and Birds Act, which was toughened last year to deal with those convicted of cruelty to animals.

In his online post, Mr Shanmugam revealed that Mr Lee's family has approached his volunteers and asked for help, since Mr Shanmugam is also his MP.

"They spoke to my volunteers, told him that they were unsure of the charges and the next steps," Mr Shanmugam wrote. "They also shared with my volunteers, Mr Lee’s medical condition. They said that he had the mentality of a kid, suffers from epilepsy fits and seizures that occur almost on a daily basis. He gives monosyllabic answers to questions. He does not work. He never went beyond P4, and was exempted from NS because of his medical condition. He gets treatment at KTPH."

The family said that they cannot afford to engage a lawyer and asked for help to do so.

The Law Minister then disclosed that "some people heard about this and advised me that we should not help Mr Lee get a lawyer."

"They said that the public will misunderstand and think we are helping a cruel cat killer, and (by extension) that we support cruelty to animals," he explained. "They are good, well-meaning people, who were genuinely concerned for me, and my volunteers."

The minister, however, said he thought about it and it was clear to him that it was his duty to help Mr Lee find a lawyer.

"The court can then get all the facts and decide on the question of whether he is guilty, as well as the appropriate sentence, if (with emphasis), he is found guilty."

He added, "It is the right thing to do (with emphasis) in the circumstances. I don’t think people will therefore assume that I or the lawyer condone cruelty to animals. Far from it."

Mr Shanmugam said he has asked Josephus Tan, a lawyer who helps in his branch, if he will represent Mr Lee.

Mr Tan has agreed and will act pro bono for Mr Lee.

The minister urged members of the public not to jump to any conclusions about the case while it is pending before the courts.

"The key thing is that the person(s) responsible for the killings should be identified and stopped; and should face the punishment according to the law," he said. "If someone is mentally unsound, then that is a matter to be proven in court, and for the court to consider in deciding on what to do."

In the three month period from October to December last year, 19 cats - mostly strays - have been found dead or seriously injured in Yishun. Only two have survived.