Lawyer making a habit of going beyond call of duty

Mr R. Thrumurgan and his wife Priscilla Yip with Carmen Chng Jiawen (seated), for whom they are acting as sureties. Mr Thrumurgan defended Chng pro bono, and the teen now sees the couple as her parents.
Mr R. Thrumurgan and his wife Priscilla Yip with Carmen Chng Jiawen (seated), for whom they are acting as sureties. Mr Thrumurgan defended Chng pro bono, and the teen now sees the couple as her parents.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Lawyer R. Thrumurgan, who is earning a reputation for going beyond the call of duty for his clients, knows disappointment.

In 2011, after a six-year pro bono battle, he overturned Ismil Kadar's murder conviction for the death of an elderly neighbour in a widely reported case. He gave the man a job at his firm as a dispatch assistant. The next year, 46-year-old Ismil was jailed seven years for drug use.

In an interview yesterday at his firm, Trident Law Corporation, Mr Thrumurgan, 42, spoke on record for the first time about Ismil's latest conviction. "I am obviously disappointed. But I would have felt really, really angry with myself if I had not tried to intervene."

Ismil's drug problem was "30 years in the making, so it's really hard to break that cycle", he explained. "But for young offenders, if we intervene at an early stage (and look at) how we restructure their lives, we can look at it as a real opportunity to do something."

The Court of Appeal judges had praised him in 2011 for his "impassioned advocacy" and "commendable conscientiousness" in conducting Ismil's defence. Last week, Community Court Judge Mathew Joseph said it was probably the first time he had seen a lawyer and his wife step forward to be sureties to ensure a client's good behaviour.

The client in this case was 18-year-old Carmen Chng Jiawen, whom Mr Thrumurgan also defended pro bono. She pleaded guilty to having kicked a policewoman and the rear window of a police car in 2013, and was sentenced to 18 months' probation. Not only did the lawyer and his wife decide to act as sureties, but he also gave her a job as an administrative assistant.

His wife Priscilla Yip, 41, who is head of communications in Asia-Pacific for Airbus Helicopters, admitted she had a bit of reservation at first. "But I've got to know Carmen and she's not that difficult to manage. It just takes some empathy."

Chng now sees the duo as her parents. Her father left the family 14 years ago. Her 43-year-old mother works as a waitress to support the family.Chng stopped school in 2008, and has yet to take her PSLE.

"To me, this is a new lease of life," she said of the second chance given by Mr Thrumurgan, whose firm takes on at least 30 cases pro bono each year, and took on Chng's case for free after being approached by her mother. Having grown up in a low-income family, Mr Thrumurgan knows what it is like to be in need. "It's important to recognise that people are coming to you for help and most of them have just one chance."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2015, with the headline 'Lawyer making a habit of going beyond call of duty'. Print Edition | Subscribe