IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

62-year-old lawyer shows no signs of slowing down

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 29, 2013

HE IS 62 years old and still believes in heroes.

"I don't want to be mediocre. I want to be a dedicated professional. That's why, from the time I started, I've always looked out for heroes - senior lawyers who are professionally competent, ethically sound and inspiring," said lawyer Peter Cuthbert Low.

He has been in the profession for more than 30 years and remains a man with a mission - not to save, but to help.

His work is his "passion", he said. In all his cases, he sees himself as a necessary bridge between his client and the courts.

"I believe people first need access to a lawyer before they can get access to justice," said Mr Low, who is currently the solicitor for his friend, law professor Tey Tsun Hang, in the high-profile sex-for-grades case.

Other high-profile past clients include former Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees, former opposition politician Tang Liang Hong, and Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan.

He said the circumstances behind his acting for these individuals differed in each case. But he said his intent was - and remains - constant: "As a lawyer, you try not to pick and choose. I treat each of my clients as individuals who need legal assistance. I don't identify with their causes, but I identify with their needs."

In 1987 - the year of his "most memorable case" to date - he witnessed the arrest of his then- colleague and former law school classmate Tang Lay Lee.

"I couldn't believe she was a Marxist. She was a school prefect, she attended mass regularly, and was a more religious Catholic than I was," he said.

Later, he heard that three other lawyer friends had also been arrested. They were among about 20 people accused of being part of an alleged Marxist conspiracy which planned to topple the Government. They were rounded up under the ISA and detained.

"I considered them friends. How could I not help?" he said.

He eventually did not represent these four lawyers, but acted for former Singapore Polytechnic lecturer Chng Suan Tze, who was involved in that incident.

As for the 1993 and 1996 cases in which he defended Dr Chee and Mr Tang respectively in the defamation suits they faced, he did not know them personally beforehand and was introduced to them by fellow lawyers.

These cases were "politically charged", but Mr Low declares he has no political affiliations. "I'm just a lawyer, doing my job. I'm not a member of any political party and I never have been."

Years ago, he was asked to join an opposition party, which he declined to name. He did not accept the offer because of the loss of privacy and stress it would entail.

Yet even without joining politics, his job has caused him some anxiety at times, he said.

During the 1987 case, he said he was subjected to surveillance. "But I knew I wasn't doing anything wrong, so I felt I would not get into trouble. Besides, I was a very nationalistic reservist officer then," he said, chuckling.

He has also experienced disappointment - from some of his "heroes". He recalled facing multiple rejections in the 1987 case, and even 20 years later, when he was looking for senior lawyers to act for the Far Eastern Economic Review. The magazine was being sued for defamation by former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"I was disappointed that a few of my heroes were unable to help," he said.

They all remain his friends but, he said, smiling: "In certain areas, I know they have reservations."

Winning some of his high-profile cases has also not come easy for him. "I've mostly lost, you know," he admitted.

He feels sad each time this happens, "but at least the matter is ventilated, and the rule of law prevails". Despite the scorecard, he keeps going because he still has the "passion to fight". "I'm not in this for the money," Mr Low said.

He is active out of the courtroom. He was on the CHIJ Board of Governors for about a decade, and is a founder and member of the Catholic Lawyers Guild, and founder-member of local human rights advocacy group Maruah.

"Lawyers can add value to society at large," he said. "I encourage lawyers to join the Law Society's activities and non-legal organisations. It will help them to grow personally and professionally."

Mr Low is married with three daughters, and home is a Housing Board executive apartment in the north. His eldest daughter Adeline, 28, is a teacher. Christine, 25, and Elaine, 22, are on their way to becoming lawyers.

"I'm innocent, by the way. I didn't tell any of them they needed to be lawyers, although I did tell them to do something meaningful in life," he said.

Christine is a trainee lawyer in his firm and Elaine, a law undergraduate, is likely to join his firm too, something he was initially apprehensive about.

"It's very malu (Malay for "embarrassing") when I bring them to court and occasionally get scolded by the judge in the course of trial work. But I came to the conclusion, what the heck. I'm thick- skinned," he said, grinning.

When he was interviewed about 20 years ago as the then- Law Society president, he said he hoped to lead a quieter life after he stepped down.

But today, he returns home at "only about 9pm or 10pm", and shows no signs of slowing down. "My wife is very supportive. Besides, my heroes are in their 70s and are still working. I will follow in their footsteps," he said.

He added thoughtfully: "Not as a hero, but as a sympathetic voice for those seeking justice."

brynasim@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 29, 2013 

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