The Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA-IROL) issued a strongly-worded statement on Wednesday (3 May) condemning the suspension of prominent Singapore human rights lawyer M. Ravi by the Singapore Supreme Court.

The decision followed Mr Ravi’s public criticism of the prosecution and the Law Society of Singapore in the context of representing a client facing a death sentence for drug-related offences.

Mr Ravi has been an international human rights lawyer in Singapore for over 20 years, representing numerous landmark human rights and constitutional law cases, including death penalty cases.

The Court of Three Judges of the Court of Appeal of Singapore imposed a five-year suspension on Mr Ravi, the maximum possible sanction for lawyers, and ordered him to bear the Law Society’s costs for their prosecution of an appeal against him.

UIA-IROL believes these repressive measures constitute a grave violation of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and the freedom of expression in matters concerning the law, the administration of justice, and the protection of human rights.

The UIA, established in 1927, is a global, multicultural organization for the legal profession that promotes professional development, learning, networking, and the Rule of Law. It represents two million lawyers from 110 countries.

According to the UIA-IROL statement, “We believe that M. Ravi was erroneously held to having ‘recklessly and baselessly undermin[ed] the very pillars of the legal system in which he (as well as his fellow practitioners) operates’. Indeed, M. Ravi only expressed a personal opinion in the press about the procedure and the outcome of a trial he had been involved in.”

The statement further highlights that the Law Society of Singapore challenged the decision of its own disciplinary committee to the Supreme Court of Singapore against statements by Mr Ravi that the role of the Law Society was to protect lawyers rather than prosecute them for doing their job.

The UIA-IROL wishes to remind the Law Society of Singapore of its primary duties: “Representing, protecting, and assisting members of the legal profession in Singapore” […] “The mission of the Law Society is to serve its members and the public by sustaining an independent bar which upholds the rule of law and ensures access to justice.”

UIA-IROL strongly disagrees with the court’s characterization of Mr Ravi as a “continuing danger” to the public’s confidence in the Singaporean judicial system.

The statement emphasizes, “In fact, it is the court’s decision that undermines the rule of law in Singapore, for which the independence of the legal profession is essential.”

The statement also expresses deep concern over the chilling effect of misconceived disciplinary proceedings, resulting in lawyers being unwilling to represent death row convicts. UIA-IROL notes several cases where persons facing imminent execution appeared unrepresented.

UIA-IROL urges the Law Society of Singapore to review its practice of initiating disciplinary proceedings against lawyers for their role as lawyers, which includes the freedom of expression in representation of a case, and calls for a moratorium on all disciplinary proceedings pending such a review.

“The UIA-IROL will continue to monitor closely this situation and to support M. Ravi and more generally all lawyers arbitrarily prosecuted in Singapore for performing their professional duties and/or legitimately exercising their freedom of expression.”

In addition to his suspension, Mr Ravi has been confronted with personal court orders totalling S$70,000, stemming from multiple complaints filed against him for late submissions in various death penalty cases.

Moreover, he is presently facing Contempt of Court charges, with state prosecutors pursuing a prison sentence as his penalty.

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