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High Court dismisses misconduct charge against lawyer M Ravi over comments about death penalty case

High Court dismisses misconduct charge against lawyer M Ravi over comments about death penalty case

Source: TODAY
Article Date: 13 May 2022
Author: Louisa Tang

 But Mr Ravi still faces one misconduct charge made out by the Law Society's disciplinary tribunal.

  • Lawyer M Ravi spoke in an interview after a Court of Appeal decision about his client who was then on death row
  • AGC filed a disciplinary complaint to LawSoc
  • It took issue with the lawyer’s comments during the interview about an "overzealous" prosecution for the death row case
  • After a disciplinary tribunal formed by LawSoc said those were fair comments, AGC applied to the court for a review of the decision
  • High Court judge See Kee Oon dismissed AGC’s application, but Mr Ravi still faces one misconduct charge

A High Court judge on Thursday (May 12) dismissed a request by the Attorney-General (AG) to review a disciplinary tribunal’s decision where lawyer M Ravi was found to have made fair criticism, thus ruling that he did not act with malice over a death row case.

The case was tied to Mr Ravi’s client Gobi Avedian, a 32-year-old Malaysian drug courier.

Gobi escaped the gallows in October 2020 after the Court of Appeal reviewed his earlier death penalty sentence and reinstated his original High Court sentence of 15 years’ jail and 10 strokes of the cane.

After this, Mr Ravi gave a video interview that was posted on the Facebook page of the now-defunct socio-political news site The Online Citizen.

In the interview, Mr Ravi said: “The prosecution, in prosecuting people especially for (the) death penalty — it is extremely important that you must be fair to both sides, the accused and the state.

“So therefore, balancing this, the state has been overzealous in its prosecution, the Public Prosecutor has been overzealous in this prosecution and that has led to the death sentence of Gobi.”

Mr Ravi also said it was “troubling” that the prosecution ran a different case before the High Court and Court of Appeal, and that the apex court had called the fairness of the prosecution into question.

The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) then said that his claims were “categorically false”. It also issued the lawyer a letter demanding that he apologise and retract his allegations.

The AG serves as the Public Prosecutor.

When Mr Ravi refused to do so and demanded an apology from state prosecutors, AGC filed a disciplinary complaint against him to the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc).

AGC said that Mr Ravi had “made serious allegations insinuating that the Public Prosecutor had acted in bad faith or maliciously... and that this alleged misconduct led to the imposition of the death sentence on (Gobi)”.

A disciplinary tribunal convened by LawSoc found that Mr Ravi’s statements constituted fair criticism, given that he had a rational basis for saying what he did.

This was because the Court of Appeal had observed that the prosecution advanced a different case against Gobi during the High Court trial, as compared to what was put forward on appeal, and expressed its concern that this had ultimately prejudiced Gobi.

The tribunal did not make out a professional misconduct charge arising from AGC's complaint.

The AG then filed an application to the High Court to review the tribunal's decision.

The AG argued that Mr Ravi's use of the word “overzealous” could carry the insinuation that the prosecution was overly enthusiastic or too eager to secure Gobi's conviction on a capital charge.

WHAT JUDGE SAYS

On Thursday, High Court judge See Kee Oon considered whether Mr Ravi had implied that the prosecution acted with malice, in bad faith or improperly. TODAY had obtained a copy of his oral remarks.

The judge found that the lawyer’s statements, “taken as a whole and understood in context”, did not imply that the prosecution had sought to achieve this at all cost or through any means.

What Mr Ravi said was premised on the rational basis that the prosecution’s approach during Gobi’s appeal had prejudiced him, which meant that Mr Ravi did not intend to impute malice, bad faith or impropriety to AGC, Justice See said.

"It does not equate to a suggestion that the prosecution had acted improperly in its conduct of Gobi’s case on appeal when it changed its case,” he added.

Justice See also saw no issue with Mr Ravi’s use of the word “troubling” because there was some factual basis to this sentiment.

Justice See noted that that the context of Mr Ravi’s remarks was also relevant in determining how an ordinary, reasonable person would understand them when they were made, as well as what Mr Ravi intended.

The judge said that in his view, the relevant context was the full transcript of Mr Ravi’s interview alongside the Court of Appeal’s oral judgement on Gobi’s case.

He rejected the AG’s submissions that the disciplinary tribunal had failed to consider what happened in the days after the interview.

This included the AG’s letter to Mr Ravi; the lawyer’s Facebook post that stated that the “government lawyers” who “handled Gobi’s case are the wrongdoers”; and Mr Ravi’s response letter where he refused to apologise.

Justice See said: “Even if the evidence of subsequent statements or events in the days after may be said to shed some light on (Mr Ravi)’s intent at the time of making the statements, such evidence would only serve as a form of secondary (and weak) corroboration at best.”

The judge also agreed with the disciplinary tribunal that Mr Ravi’s statements constituted fair criticism. Pertinently, the Court of Appeal had accepted that the prosecution’s failure to run a consistent case at trial and on appeal was unfair to Gobi.

However, the apex court acknowledged that during the High Court trial, a judgement regarding the issue of wilful blindness in drug trafficking cases had not been released.

In Gobi's case, the Court of Appeal had found that the prosecution failed to prove he was “wilfully blind” to the nature of the drugs — 40.22g of heroin that were found on him at Woodlands Checkpoint in 2014.

Thursday’s development does not spell the end of Mr Ravi’s disciplinary issues. LawSoc's tribunal has made out a misconduct charge in relation to the Facebook post he had published alleging that “government lawyers” who “handled Gobi’s case are the wrongdoers”.

Copyright 2022 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

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