Veteran lawyer Leo Fernando dies at 85

Mr Leo Fernando began practice as a criminal lawyer in 1967 and started his own firm a decade later.
Mr Leo Fernando began practice as a criminal lawyer in 1967 and started his own firm a decade later.

Criminal law 'legend' had major heart attack and suffered from kidney failure

Veteran lawyer Leo Fernando, who was counted among the "legends" in criminal law in the 70s and 80s, died on Friday evening at age 85.

He was in a hospital's intensive care unit for the past three weeks after a minor heart attack, his son, Mr Peter Fernando, 60, told The Sunday Times yesterday.

"His condition was improving, but there was an unfortunate turn of events on Friday at about 6pm and he had a massive heart attack," said the younger Mr Fernando, who is also a criminal lawyer. He said his father also suffered from kidney failure.

The late Mr Fernando was a police officer for 13 years before he quit in 1964 to read law in London.

He began practice as a criminal lawyer in 1967 and started his own firm a decade later.

"My father had a heart of gold and he was an inspiration to me. As a lawyer, he sought justice for the poorest of his clients," said Mr Fernando.

AN INSPIRATION

My father had a heart of gold... As a lawyer, he sought justice for the poorest of his clients.

MR PETER FERNANDO, on his father, veteran lawyer Leo Fernando.

In 1976, together with the late Mr David Marshall, Singapore's first chief minister, he successfully defended a young Subhas Anandan, who was detained without trial under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act. The pair represented the late Mr Subhas, who went on to be a prominent criminal lawyer, for free.

The elder Mr Fernando was one of the two vice-presidents of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, when it was formed in 2004.

Criminal lawyer Shashi Nathan said he was "one of the great legends of the criminal Bar" and made an effort to meet younger lawyers and chat with them over coffee.

"I had just started practising when I met him. He would always encourage us and tell us to be relentless in the way we put forward our defences," said Mr Nathan.

"He was inspiring, and had a good manner about him. Nothing seemed to faze him too much."

Mr Fernando leaves behind his 85-year-old wife, seven children and 16 grandchildren. The funeral will be held at the Church of St Mary of the Angels on Tuesday afternoon and his body will be cremated at Mandai Crematorium.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 17, 2017, with the headline 'Veteran lawyer Leo Fernando dies at 85'. Print Edition | Subscribe