The Attorney-General (AG) has appointed Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo from WongPartnership to defend a legal suit brought by lawyer M. Ravi who is seeking access to certain documents and answers to questions in relation to 11 prison inmates, most of whom are on death row.
The appointment of an external counsel will obviate a potential conflict of interest and ensure the AG is above board in dealing with a case where it is the defendant, said lawyers interviewed yesterday.
Mr Ravi's originating summons also named a second defendant - the Superintendent of Changi Prison, who is defended by Mr Abraham Vergis, managing director of Providence Law Asia.
One of the plaintiffs in the suit is convicted drug runner Gobi Avedian, who was spared the gallows last month by a five-member Court of Appeal and given 15 years' jail and 10 strokes of the cane instead.
The other plaintiffs are understood to be death row inmates, including convicted drug trafficker Syed Suhail Syed Zin.
The Court of Appeal last month allowed Syed Suhail leave for a judicial review to argue his claim that death row inmates are not being treated equally in the scheduling of executions.
Also on the list is Iskandar Rahmat, who was given the death sentence for the 2013 Kovan Road double murder.
He had killed a car workshop owner and the man's son, and while fleeing in a car along Upper Serangoon Road, he had dragged the son's body under the car.
In his suit, Mr Ravi is applying to the court for copies of letters from the AG to the prison seeking from the prison copies of the 11 inmates' correspondence.
He also wants copies of letters from the prison to the AG, enclosing copies of the 11 plaintiffs' correspondence.
In addition, he wants copies of the plaintiffs' correspondence that was forwarded by the prison to the AG, including the enclosures.
Among other things, Mr Ravi wants to know as well if any of the referred inmates' correspondence was not requested by the public prosecutor and whether any of the correspondence was disclosed to the public prosecutor.
His application to the court is for a pre-action discovery based on court rules, meaning he seeks to inspect the documents and obtain answers to related queries to decide if further action is to be launched.
A High Court pre-trial conference is due next week.
The AG's move to bring in an external party as defence counsel is to ensure there is no suggestion it is not dealing with this matter appropriately when faced with allegations.
Mr Sunil Sudheesan, president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers Singapore, said the appointment was a "prudent move" as the AG has a right to be represented when faced with a suit.
Veteran lawyer Peter Ong Lip Cheng said appointing external counsel will ensure the AG is above board in dealing with a case where it is the defendant.
Mr Ong added: "It is also generally accepted to be unwise for a defendant to represent himself."
When contacted, Senior Counsel Yeo said: "As allegations have been made against our client, they have engaged us to deal with the matter appropriately and expeditiously.
"As the matter is now before the court, we are not able to comment further."