by Teo Soh Lung
This case perhaps highlights the danger of “ownself represent ownself” in a court case.
M Ravi discharged his lawyers and represented himself at a hearing before a court of three judges (including the Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon) determining an appeal by the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc).
Its Disciplinary Tribunal had imposed the penalty of S$6,000 on Ravi for improper conduct – for threatening the Attorney General Chambers (AGC) and LawSoc with legal proceedings over the case of Gobi a/l Avedian.
The Tribunal had acquitted Ravi of the first charge but found him guilty of the other three charges.
The first charge alleged that the prosecutor was “overzealous in his prosecution” by appealing against the sentence of 10 years and 15 strokes of the cane passed by the High Court on Gobi a/l Avedian. Gobi was subsequently sentenced to death by the Court of Appeal. The judges then included Menon CJ).
This case also emphasised the powers of the court over the conduct of lawyers. They can expect harsh penalties even if the complaints against them do not involve fraud or grossly improper conduct. But this is nothing novel as Singapore laws are in general, extremely punitive.
At the hearing conducted via zoom last October, LawSoc’s lawyer asked the court to impose a three months suspension on Ravi.
On being reminded by CJ Menon that another lawyer, Nalpon, who made sub-judice remarks, was suspended for 15 months, she agreed that the suspension should be longer.
The recent judgement notes that Gopalan Nair was suspended for two years and Ravi M deserved to be suspended for five years, the maximum under the law.
I cannot appreciate the reasoning of the Court in ordering the maximum penalty for Ravi M. The offending statements were published on his personal Facebook, a day after Gobi’s life was spared by the Court of Appeal. Those posts I think, can be attributed to the feeling of relief and of feeling “good and high” at Gobi being spared the gallows.
His attempts to explain to the Court regarding the pressure he faced from the prosecution when he was on medical leave not only failed to gain compassion but probably aggravated his situation.
From what the Chief Justice said at the zoom hearing, Ravi had apparently failed to show any remorse for what he had published on his Facebook and had stubbornly held on to the belief that he was a “victim” of persecution by the State as well as the Law Society.
His evidence at the Tribunal and the written submissions of his lawyer apparently differed from what he told the court. He failed to gain any sympathy for his bipolar condition and the mitigating factors – that he was subjected to several prosecutions and complaints by the AGC when he was on medical leave.
Perhaps what is most unfortunate about the judgement is its emphasis on the need to protect our key legal legal institutions.
CJ Menon said:
“In our judgment, Mr Ravi’s misconduct exhibits a fundamental lack of respect and a blatant disregard for the integrity of Singapore’s key legal institutions. This, in our view, revealed an ingrained attitude that may amount to a defect of character because Mr Ravi’s views are not only not rooted in fact but also seem to be stubbornly held and acted upon. There is also no doubt as to the utter disregard he has for the AG and the Law Society, both of which are key institutions of our legal system, and has to this extent brought dishonour to the standing of the legal profession. … we hold that the appropriate sanction is the maximum term of suspension. The position would likely have been a striking off order if we were also sanctioning Mr Ravi for the First Charge. We elaborate.”
The court then details six instances justifying why Ravi M deserves the maximum suspension of five years.
I quote parts of these instances here.
- Mr Ravi has demonstrated not only his failure to uphold public confidence in the integrity of the legal system and legal profession, but also his readiness to actively undermine them.
- Mr Ravi’s blatant disregard for these key legal institutions is demonstrated by the seriousness of the allegations made against the AG and the Law Society coupled with his persistent tendency to make these allegations with no regard for the truth.
- Mr Ravi made grievous allegations against essential pillars of our legal system which threatened to undermine public confidence in the integrity of these key institutions, accusing them of abusing their position and powers to take unfair advantage of an accused person facing the death penalty and to deliberately mislead the court (in the case of the AG et al), or of being complicit in an attempt to harass Mr Ravi (in the case of the Law Society). These allegations went beyond attacks on the integrity of these institutions themselves and, more fundamentally, cast doubt on the fairness and integrity of the criminal justice system as a whole.
- Mr Ravi, in fact, went even further to allege that the court had “abdicate[d] its duties” by failing to exercise its powers under s 394J(1)(b) of the CPC to review the Gobi proceedings on its own motion. This point is entirely irrelevant to the issues in the present proceedings, which are concerned with the impropriety of the allegations he had levied against the AG et al and the Law Society. In our view, these further accusations were not only indications of his impenitence, but yet another marker of his inclination to make baseless assertions of impropriety against key legal institutions. Mr Ravi even went so far as to impugn the profession as a whole during his oral submissions, stating that he “[did] not feel any more part of an honourable profession” [emphasis added].
- No solicitor can be permitted to recklessly and baselessly undermine the very pillars of the legal system in which he (as well as his fellow practitioners) operates; to do so would plainly cause grave injury to public confidence in the legal profession.
- that imposing anything short of the maximum term of suspension that is now permitted would not be adequate to address the continuing danger that Mr Ravi, by his baseless and ill-conceived attacks, poses to public confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore.
I am quite surprised at these conclusions. Is there no room for criticism of our key institutions of justice? Are our judges, the AGC and LawSoc above comments?
In his oral submission, Ravi did express to the court that he “[did] not feel any more part of an honourable profession.”
Though his general statements may show his lack of faith in the legal profession, this is just his opinion and should not have disturbed the court. The focus should have been on the seriousness of the three charges before them and not his expression of his opinion of LawSoc.
Prerogative of the Court
Enhancement of a sentence by the Appellate Court is its prerogative. The former Chief Justice Yong Pung How had done that frequently though he had on some rare occasions expressed compassion and given young offenders a chance to reform.
I had that kind of treatment from him when I represented one 18-year-old boy who was involved in a gang fight in Orchard Road.
The entire gang was brought before the Subordinate Courts and sentenced to jail with three strokes of the cane when they pleaded guilty to rioting. It was an extremely harsh punishment for our young people.
My client appealed because he was afraid of the cane. He prayed very hard to be spared the cane. And his prayers were answered on the morning he appeared before former Justice Yong. He reduced the sentence and did away with the three strokes of the cane. In open court, he ordered the other cases to be reviewed. All the young people were spared the rod!
CJ Menon is aware of section 394J(1)(b) of the Criminal Procedure Code. The Court of Appeal delivered its judgement on Adili Chibuike Ejike’s case on 27 May 2019. It did not call for a review of Gobi’s case. Nine months after Adili’s judgement, Ravi filed Gobi’s application for review on 25 February 2019.
Had he not filed Gobi’s application for review, would Gobi have been sent to the gallows? He had exhausted all avenues of appeal, including an unsuccessful clemency petition to our President.
CJ Menon pointed out at the hearing that Ravi M should not claim credit for succeeding in the review of Gobi because it was the Court of Appeal itself that raised the issue of the prosecution running two different cases at the trial and at the appeal.
Ravi accepted this correction but added that the Court of Appeal should, on its own motion, exercise its power of review under the Criminal Procedure Code. Why is this irrelevant to the issues raised in Ravi M’s case when he, perhaps in a moment of exasperation of being reminded that the success of the review was no credit to him, blurted out that the court had “abdicate[d] its duties”?
With due respect to CJ Menon, I think this is relevant to the proceedings. If this opinion is irrelevant, then Ravi M’s opinion about LawSoc is equally irrelevant.
Public confidence cannot disappear with the words of one individual
It is unfortunate that our government refuse to follow our colonial master in doing away with the law of scandalising the court. Instead, our parliament swiftly enacted the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act.
I think our judiciary is overprotected by this law. This law has rendered fundamental liberties that are guaranteed by our Constitution meaningless.
Is it good for us to stifle free speech and expression? Should we forget Lord Atkin’s observation in 1936 that “Justice is not a cloistered virtue: she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men.”
I think it is not a good practice to overprotect the reputation of any institution, be it legal, educational or even the country.
A good reputation must be earned. It is pointless to self-praise or claim that one’s good name is ruined by the words of one person. Public confidence in the legal profession or any institution cannot disappear with the words of one individual.
If a good reputation can be damaged so easily, then I don’t think it was ever a good reputation, to begin with.
This was first published on Function 8’s Facebook page