It has been disturbing to read that the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) has filed a disciplinary complaint to the Law Society of Singapore against human rights law lawyer M Ravi for saying in an interview that the Prosecution had, among other things, been “overzealous” in pursuing his client.
Procedurally, if the AGC files a disciplinary complaint to the Law Society against a lawyer, the Chief Justice has no choice but to call a Disciplinary Tribunal against that lawyer, even if he did not wish to.
Such is the power of the AGC.
The AGC is essentially the Government’s lawyer. Its authority should therefore be morally and legally above board, with no hint of a personal agenda.
Yet, can that be said of the AGC here?
For those unaware, this AGC complaint is over the case of Malaysian inmate Gobi Avedian, who was in the final stages of his death row case. Ravi represented Gobi over the latter’s drug trafficking charges.
The High Court had originally handed out the death penalty to Gobi. This decision was appealed against, and in reading the judgement, it is disquieting to realise that had Ravi not appealed, Gobi would be dead despite certain inconsistencies and holes in the prosecution’s arguments.
In asking for the death penalty, the prosecution had to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Gobi knew about the contents of the suitcase.
The Court of Appeal, part of Singapore’s apex Supreme Court, held that the prosecution had not done this.
This means that the prosecution did not have sufficient evidence to prove that Gobi legally deserved the death penalty. Yet the prosecution went for the death penalty anyway.
Where is the regard for life here?
Did the AGC know that its evidence was not strong but went ahead anyway? Or did it not know that its evidence was weak? The AGC is a powerful institution in our country with great influence. Either situation is therefore not only not ideal but downright scary.
It is noteworthy that the Court of Appeal’s written judgement stated in black and white that the prosecution ran a different case in its appeal.
It wrote that the prosecution’s case against the Applicant at the trial was not one of actual knowledge, but one of wilful blindness: “On the other hand, it is undisputed that the prosecution’s case on appeal was one of actual knowledge”.
Did the prosecution knowingly push ahead to get a man hanged despite not being sure themselves that their case would pass the burden of proof? If so, are they callously negligent over human life?
This is thought-provoking and heavy.
In reversing their previous conviction of the death sentence, the judges ruled:
“In the present case, the change between the case that was run by the Prosecution at the trial and the case that it ran on appeal was not a point that was raised by the Applicant. As we have noted ( see [ 46] above), it was brought up by us, having considered the potential significance of Adili ( supra). Having reviewed the submissions that were made on this in response to our invitation, and in the light of the change in the legal position effected by this judgment, we are satisfied that the Prosecution’s change in the case that it ran on appeal, as compared to the case that it ran at the trial, prejudiced the Applicant.”
This is a man’s life. How can a death penalty be asked for and handed down on arguments like this?
Looking at this in context, is it that strange that Ravi made the comments that he did?
Remember, if Ravi had not acted for Gobi, he would already be dead. Death is irreversible. Ravi, through sheer tenacity, saved Gobi’s life.
Yet instead of conceding its potential mistakes, the AGC demanded an apology and has now made a disciplinary complaint against Ravi. A hormonal teenager might do this, but remember, this is the AGC, the Government’s lawyers! This behaviour beggars belief.
In other words, the AGC is seemingly prioritising being seen as “right” over saving a man’s life.
Does this imply that it would allow someone to die just to save its reputation and that it would subsequently turn against a lawyer who saved a person, just to prevent its reputation from being tarnished?
This chain of events does not make for comfortable reading — is the AGC putting its own ego above life?