by Teo Soh Lung
I am disappointed that the AGC has issued a letter to defence counsel, Mr M Ravi, demanding that he apologises and unconditionally retracts the allegations made during the interview with TOC. The AGC claims Mr Ravi said that:
- the Public Prosecutor has been “overzealous” in the prosecution of the Applicant, and “that has led to the death sentence for [the Applicant]”;
- “it was troubling” that the Public Prosecutor had run a different case before the High Court and the Court of Appeal;
- he Public Prosecutor, among others, should apologise to the Applicant for the suffering the Applicant went through; and
- the “fairness of the Prosecution is called into question” by the Court of Appeal.
The AGC does not say what consequences will follow should Mr M Ravi refuses to comply with its demands. I will not speculate here but I urge the AGC to be tolerant of comments and criticisms, rightly or wrongly leveled against it.
In 2017, the Attorney-General Mr Lucien Wong assured the public that the AGC will always act in the interest of the public in relation to prosecution of cases. (The Straits Times Oct 21, 2017). Bearing that in mind, I do not think it is in the interest of the public that the AGC should contemplate any action against Mr M Ravi or for that matter against any defence counsel who works so hard to save a condemned prisoner from the gallows.
The public needs lawyers like Mr M Ravi. He is one of the rare few who is willing to go the extra mile for a client and is ready to file urgent and difficult applications in order to save lives. Gobi Avedian is not his first case nor will it be his last.
Every person wants to live and as Mr Ravi said, unless and until every avenue is exhausted, no one should die.
Our Supreme Court is independent and its work is to ensure that each and every person, including a condemned person receives justice in accordance with the law. The Court of Appeal has said that the law is constantly evolving and it is not wrong for it to reverse its own decision in appropriate cases.
At the trial, Gobi Avedian was sentenced to 15 years jail and 10 strokes of the cane. Sadly, the Prosecutor appealed (a decision which I believe had never been taken when the Late Mr Wee Chong Jin was Chief Justice and the Late Mr Tan Boon Teik was Attorney-General). Why would the public want to see a person condemned to death? Shouldn’t justice be tempered with mercy? The Late Mr David Marshall when asked about his conscience in securing an acquittal for a client charged for murder because of his skill used to reply that he hoped the person receiving a second chance, would reform.
In saying that “the Public Prosecutor has been “overzealous” in the prosecution of the Applicant, and “that has led to the death sentence for [the Applicant]” Mr Ravi is just expressing an opinion based on what had happened to his client. Gobi Avedian was spared his life at the trial but was convicted upon appeal by the Prosecutor. If the Prosecutor had not appealed, Gobi Avedian would not have had to undergo additional harrowing years of waiting to be hanged.
Also, what if the State had moved as swiftly as the Late Chief Justice Yong Pung How in dealing with death row inmates? Gobi Avedian would have been hanged soon after the President acting on the advice of the Cabinet had rejected his clemency petition.
I do not think it is in the interest of the public that the AGC should react in the manner it did. What can Mr Ravi do if the AGC refuses to apologise? I would venture to say “nothing” though his client had indeed suffered immeasurably because he could have been hanged at any time.
Gobi Avedian was fortunate that there was a landmark decision in Adili Chibuike Ejjike (Adili) in 2019 which set out clearly the doctrine of wilful blindness and the burden of proof that the Prosecution has to discharge. Gobi Avedian was spared his life because of Mr Ravi and the courage and willingness of the Court of Appeal in reviewing its own decision in the light of Adili.
I wish the AGC has taken into consideration the fact that M Ravi had not read the full judgement of the Court of Appeal when he gave the interview to TOC. If there is any inaccuracy in his statements, by all means issue a press release to explain its position but refrain from threatening counsel. Mr Ravi is just doing his best for his client. As he said, he does not seek publicity for his pro bono work.
Mr Ravi urges the AGC and the Minister of Law to review all death row cases in view of the decision of the Court of Appeal in Gobi Avedian which relied on Adili. That would spare Mr Ravi from having to file more applications to review death row cases.
The Appellate Court has the inherent power to review on its own motion, an earlier decision of the appellate court (section 394J of the Criminal Procedure Code). Perhaps the AGC can study all the death row cases and refer them for reviews in the light of Adili and Gobi Avedian. Every life is precious. Even an ant wants to live.
This was first published on Function 8’s Facebook page, and was reproduced with permission.