Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said yesterday (6 September) that the courts ought to punish lawyers who have not behaved themselves properly to protect the standing and dignity of the (legal) profession.
The court was deliberating on the penalty for human rights lawyer, Mr M Ravi for the four charges of misdeed that he had pleaded guilty before a disciplinary tribunal last year
Mr Ravi pleaded guilty on 10 Febrary last year on the charge of creating a disturbance at the Law Society office, shown by a video clip which was later circulated online.
Another charge was making unfitting statements against the Law Society president and his family members in a Facebook post.
Two other charges comprise Mr Ravi making false accusations against two lawyers in February last year.
The tribunal had recommended Mr Ravi’s case to the Court of Three Judges, pointing out that it had no power to fine or censure Mr Ravi as he was being dealt with as a non-practising lawyer.
In the court yesterday, Eugene Thuraisingam, Mr Ravi’s lawyer sought an overall fine of S$10,000 (S$2,500 per offence) and pleaded for the court to take his client’s mental illness into account.
Mr Sean La’Brooy, solicitor for the Law Society, did not object to a fine, but asked a higher amount of at least S$5,000 for each offence, stating that his condition should not absolve him.
The three judges that heard the case, CJ Menon and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Tay Yong Kwang, still reserved judgment.
Mr La’Brooy argued that psychiatrist Dr Munidasa Winslow had issued warning signs that Mr Ravi was displaying symptoms of ‘hypomania’ before the sequence of events in February. Dr Winslow had also advised Mr Ravi to be hospitalised for observation.
However, Mr Ravi did not follow the advice and had only checked himself into Mount Elizabeth Hospital on 10 February last year, after he turned up at the Law Society’s premises, harassing the staff.
“Even before the charges came up, there was an opportunity (for rehabilitation) … But Mr Ravi turned it down,” said Mr La’Brooy.
While acknowledging that Mr Ravi’s mental condition was an alleviating factor, the Solicitor stressed ‘it should not exonerate him’.
Mr Thuraisingam argued that Mr Ravi’s condition significantly reduced his moral responsibility for his misconduct, and because of it his ability to consciously choose how to act had been ‘greatly impaired’.
He cited Dr Tommy Tan, an expert called upon by the Law Society, who had equalised patients like Mr Ravi to ‘a driver in a car that is without brakes’.
“He knows that the car is without brakes, but he simply has no control over the car,” Dr Tan had written in a medical report.
“It was probable that Mr Ravi did not check himself into the hospital as he was unaware of the state and severity of the relapse,” said Mr Thuraisingam.
During the hearing, CJ Menon questioned the weight that should be placed on Mr Ravi’s mental condition in deciding on his penalty.
CJ Menon described Mr Ravi’s conduct as ‘reprehensible’ and ‘disturbing’, then asked: “(Are we) not going to hold a solicitor to the standards expected of him? … The whole thing may have been avoided if (Mr Ravi) had taken the doctor’s advice … Should we say because he has a medical condition, we punish him differently?”
And Justice Phang asked if Mr Ravi’s condition was being used as a ‘justification’.
“(There is a) wider public interest that cannot be ignored,” he added.
Mr Ravi was suspended from his practice on February last year due to his medical condition and his practising certificate expired on April last year. Since then he has not renewed his practise certificate and is now being hampered by this review to have his license reinstated.