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Oldest practising lawyer in Singapore dies, aged 88

Oldest practising lawyer in Singapore dies, aged 88

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 22 Mar 2020
Author: K.C. Vijayan

54-year veteran, a Public Service Medal winner in 2008, was devoted to his craft.

Singapore's oldest practising lawyer died early on Friday morning, aged 88.

Mr V. Ramakrishnan, one of a vanishing breed of self-made men who went to read law in London on a shoestring budget over 50 years ago, was devoted to his craft, so much so that he kept asking to go back to his office despite being gravely ill in hospital for the past fortnight.

"He was more concerned about the outstanding cases left in his office than his health," said long-time friend and lawyer K. Param, 80, who last saw him 10 days ago in hospital.

Admitted to the Bar in 1966, Mr Rama, as he is widely known, practised for 54 years. He spent about 40 of those years on pro bono civil and legal aid cases, said Mr Param.

Mr Rama's son Ravendra Krishnan, 61, said his father, whose condition had been deteriorating since last Sunday, died of cerebrovascular disease. "He was a very generous man who always put others before himself. His jovial nature was infectious and he could be heard a mile away," said Mr Ravendra.

Scores of lawyers, friends and relatives were at his wake and funeral held on Friday evening. Mr Rama is survived by his 88-year-old wife, four grown-up children and five grandchildren.

Mr Rama was born in Kedah, Malaysia, in 1931 to a housewife and a clerk. The family moved to Singapore before World War II and, after the war, he studied at Victoria School and later became a health inspector.

Seeing his peers progress to become doctors and lawyers, he left for London at age 32 to study law.

On his return, he did an internship at a law firm where legendary criminal lawyer David Marshall worked, and the close encounter spurred him on to do criminal law.

But a 1970 case, in which he successfully defended a potential death-row inmate, helped pivot his interest towards civil law cases instead.

The case was of a 19-year-old accused of shooting at a police officer after escaping from prison. Mr Rama convinced the court that the youth did not intend to fire the gun. The youth was later jailed for eight years.

Mr Rama said in an interview later that the experience, fraught with tension and sleepless nights, was unbearable. "(It is) too pressurising when a client's life is in my hands and his family can get very emotional over it."

His successes in civil law included a case pursued in Britain's Privy Council - the highest court of appeal for Singapore cases until 1994. In the appeal, he succeeded in getting the damages for a client - who had been injured in a bus accident - raised from $37,000 to $100,000.

He took on many legal aid cases, rarely rejecting any that came his way from people in need.

His efforts earned him accolades, including a Public Service Medal at the 2008 National Day Awards. In 2017, he was one of five lawyers singled out for special honour at the Law Society's Golden Jubilee for having practised for over 50 years.

He once said: "First and foremost, you must have the desire to help people; when you have that mentality, you accept any case that comes along and you try and do your best."

His long-time secretary Elaine Yip said: "He was a good and righteous man - or I would not have worked for him for over 40 years."

Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran said: "We have sadly lost an exemplar of active ageing in the practice of law, unique for being the oldest practising lawyer in Singapore at the time of his passing."

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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