Lawyer fined $6k for contempt of court

Eugene Thuraisingam said he had been feeling demoralised, after one of his clients was set to hang for drug trafficking, when he posted the 22-line poem on his Facebook page.
Eugene Thuraisingam said he had been feeling demoralised, after one of his clients was set to hang for drug trafficking, when he posted the 22-line poem on his Facebook page.

He had criticised judges in online poem just hours before his client was to be executed

Hours before his client was to be executed for drug trafficking, a "demoralised" lawyer posted a 22-line poem on his Facebook page.

In his post at about 12.55am on May 19, Eugene Thuraisingam, 42, alleged that "million-dollar men", including judges, have "turned blind" to a cruel and unjust law and are more preoccupied with acquiring financial wealth and material goods.

For that, the lawyer of 16 years was fined $6,000 for contempt of court yesterday.

Thuraisingam's client, Muhammad Ridzuan Mohd Ali, 32, was hanged on May 19 for trafficking 72.5g of heroin.

On May 26, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) filed an application to commit Thuraisingam for scandalising the judiciary in his Facebook post. It also lodged a complaint with the Law Society.

On June 5, after he was notified by the Law Society that his post was contemptuous in nature, Thuraisingam took it down and posted a public apology on his Facebook page the same day.

Yesterday, Senior State Counsel Hui Choon Kuen sought a $10,000 fine, arguing that Thuraisingam's statement posed a real risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice.

BASELESS ACCUSATION

I find that it was a regrettably deliberate attack on the integrity of the judiciary, which (Thuraisingam) now accepts was completely baseless.

JUSTICE SEE KEE OON, even as he appreciated the mental strain that Thuraisingam faces in handling capital cases regularly.

Mr Hui argued that being Ridzuan's lawyer, Thuraisingam's statement would have carried more weight than that of a member of the public. He also argued that Thuraisingam used gratuitous and offensive words in his post, likening judges to "rats" who thought only about acquiring new cars.

Mr Hui noted that publication of the post was widespread. The post garnered 476 reactions and was shared 357 times, as of May 26.

Senior Counsel Ang Cheng Hock, acting for Thuraisingam, argued that he was emotionally distressed and not in the right frame of mind at the time. He said what Thuraisingam intended to mean was that those in the "upper echelons of society" did not care about the death penalty because those facing the gallows for drug trafficking are, by and large, the poorer members of society.

In an affidavit, Thuraisingam said his final meeting with Ridzuan on April 26 still haunts him.

"I was demoralised that there was nothing further that I could do for him as his lawyer. He was young and there was so much more that he could have done with his life," he said. Ridzuan was his fourth client to be sent to the gallows.

Mr Ang also pointed to Thuraisingam's long history of voluntary work in representing underprivileged accused persons and those who are facing the gallows.

Justice See Kee Oon said he appreciated the mental strain that Thuraisingam faces in handling capital cases on a regular basis, but found it difficult to accept that the post carried no ill intent.

"I find that it was a regrettably deliberate attack on the integrity of the judiciary, which (Thuraisingam) now accepts was completely baseless," said the judge.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2017, with the headline 'Lawyer fined $6k for contempt of court'. Print Edition | Subscribe