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Defence lawyers Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss (front) and Alfred Dodwell (right) for Malaysia's Jabing Kho at Singapore's Supreme Court on May 20, 2016. Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman

Response to AGC’s “self-serving” statement on lawyers acting on Kho Jabing’s behalf

Two of the three lawyers who have represented Kho Jabing, a Malaysian national who is convicted of murder and sentenced to death, spoke out in response to the media statement issued by the Attorney-General Chambers (AGC) alleging that the lawyers abused the process of court. (Read AGC's media statement here)

Ms Jeanette Chong-Aruldoss's reply published on her Facebook account,

The role of a practising lawyer is challenging in more ways than one. We have to navigate between our role as officers of the Court on the one hand, and our role to serve our client's interests as his advocate on the other hand. Indeed, lawyers owe a duty to both the Courts and his client. In serving out this dual and sometimes competing duties, the practising lawyer has to make judgement calls. It was past office hours on Wednesday 18 May 2016 that I received instructions to act for Kho Jabing. Within the time frame given to me, I contemplated the grounds and the points of law and exercised my judgement to take the case, one that I believed fulfilled both professional duties. I was of the opinion that the grounds of my application had sufficient merits to warrant its day in court. In the end, the Courts were not with me and I accept their decision. Legal practice is a time-honoured profession, governed by principles and traditions. The Courts have their role in the legal system and the AGC have theirs. At the end of the day, the AGC is entitled to their opinion. I am entitled to mine.

Mr Alfred Dowell's reply similarly published on his Facebook account,

I am truly surprised that the AGC have decided to take the lawyers to task for acting in the Kho Jabing matter. I know every lawyer on this team worked tirelessly, fearlessly and sacrificially to save a life from death, in this case, the life of Kho Jabing.

I would state categorically that this is the sad reality of the practice of law in Singapore, that we have to be subjected to personal statements and attacks of this nature and with the release of media statements knowing that the Main Stream Media will not give us a fair reporting. I will soon make available the submissions, the full arguments and all that is relevant and related in this case, so that those who are seriously interested to know more about this issue, can take it first hand rather than what is reported to make us look bad and make the state organs look good.

As a lawyer, I have always upheld the ends of justice, always acted in my clients best interest and always taken on any case that will help the client, regardless of who the client may be. I have always been a firm advocate against the death penalty. As conventional wisdom would have it, the death penalty makes murderers of all of us. I agree with the statement.

In the case of Kho Jabing, 3 High Court Judges have found that the evidence is questionable and decided against the death penalty. There remains many questions over Kho Jabing case and the process. I will deal with it over time. There is and will always remain questions over the death penalty imposed on Kho Jabing. Hence, I do not at all regret having taken on this brief, albeit in the 11th hour, to have filed an application on Constitutional grounds and to have argued this matter before the Court of Appeal.

With respect, just because the AGC issues a media statement saying that we abused the process, does not translate into it becoming the gospel truth. It is their perspective. Many others have commended us for it. But I do not practice for praise nor recoil in fear of criticism. I do my job in the noble tradition of lawyers around the world and in Singapore who have done their utmost to save precious lives.

Perhaps the AGC should explain why when JC Kannan Ramesh clearly did not allow me into the Chamber hearing, the next day their DPP Francis Ng informed the Court of Appeal that I did not enter the chambers for "reasons best known to him" (that is allegedly I did not enter for reasons best known to me, as if to insinuate that I had a choice and choose not to enter into the chamber beating). I was shocked at this. I protested before the Court of Appeal. Even Jeanette stated clearly I was disallowed as we were not from the same law firm. No attempt was made to determine if I had a warrant to act for Kho Jabing and to act as co-counsel. I was told I could not enter the Chambers. That's all I know and next day DPP Francis Ng was saying I did not enter for "reasons best known to me". Surely the Learned DPP Francis Ng would have known I was disallowed. So, essentially whilst the AGC had 3 lawyers allowed into Chambers, Mr Jeanette Chong-Aruldoss was left alone to argue in Chambers without the benefit of co-counsel.

I was there to argue for a cause, a cause against the death penalty. I did it as I firmly believe that no client, especially death row inmates, should be denied their right to mount challenges, especially constitutional challenges, even if there might be a flicker of hope perhaps to win the day.

Well, why did the AGC appeal against Tay Yong Kwang J's decision. He decided that it should have only been a life imprisonment with 24 strokes of the cane.

The statement 'abuse of process' is thrown around too often to cause fear in lawyers from taking on cases. I am not in the least bit intimidated by such statements. I do not believe I abused the process at all, especially if it means there was only a flicker of hope to save a precious life from death.

As a Christian lawyer, I do my part to uphold what I believe to be the cause of justice and to save a life, any life based on my Christian teachings. Jesus pardoned one man from death even as he was on the cross. Jesus came to save the world, that means each and every person in this world. I will do my part to save each person I can. I do not discriminate against any person, regardless of race, religion, gender, and LGBT. Every one deserves dignity in life and dignity in death. Kho Jabing deserved a second chance and to see out his life in prison. He did not shy away from his penalty, he just wanted it to be life imprisonment. Many commendable lawyers around the world do their utmost to save precious lives in death penalty cases. I am proud to be following in that tradition. I did my utmost to save him. I am sad we failed. I am proud of my work under stressful circumstances in this case. I will do it again without hesitation.

Hence, I disagree with the AGC media statement in its entirety and I will not dwell on this issue any longer. It's a waste of my time. It will not bring Kho Jabing back to life.

I will continue to fight for the cause against the death penalty and all other worthy causes, regardless of how controversial it might appear, and regardless of what the AGC or any other may say.

Perhaps we can take this issue to the international arena and ask leading jurist from around the world if this is an abuse of process.

With respect, to have a media statement from the other side (that is the AGC) is truly a self-serving statement that I cannot and I will not take seriously.

That is all.