Apex court orders lawyer M. Ravi to pay $5,000 in costs for improper conduct

The court said lawyer M. Ravi brought an application without any real basis.
The court said lawyer M. Ravi brought an application without any real basis.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Lawyer M. Ravi was ordered to pay costs of $5,000 to the prosecution after the Court of Appeal found that he had acted improperly in making an "unmeritorious" bid to reopen a drug trafficking case.

In a judgment on Friday (May 14), the court said he brought an application without any real basis, misrepresented certain facts in his affidavit, and made baseless allegations against his client's former lawyer without giving him a chance to respond.

"Such haphazard and irresponsible attempts at reopening concluded appeals will be looked upon with disfavour," said the judgment delivered by Justice Andrew Phang.

The court, which also comprised Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Justice Judith Prakash, even went as far to characterise Mr Ravi's conduct as "grandstanding".

Lawyers should give accurate and measured advice to clients and should not simply encourage last-ditch attempts to reopen concluded matters without a reasonable basis, said the court.

"Accused persons who have been sentenced in particular to the death penalty should be protected from having their hopes unnecessarily raised and then dashed because of inaccurate or incompetent legal advice," said the court.

Mr Ravi had acted pro bono for Syed Suhail Syed Zin, 44, who was sentenced to death in December 2015 for trafficking 38.84g of heroin.

His appeal was dismissed in October 2018 and his petition for clemency was rejected in July 2019.

On Sept 17 last year, Mr Ravi filed an application to the court for permission to reopen the case on two grounds.

First, he contended that the issue of whether Suhail suffered from an abnormality of mind had not been sufficiently canvassed. Under the law, a drug courier with an abnormality of mind qualifies for a life sentence.

But the court said none of the medical evidence in the case supported the claim.

Second, Mr Ravi contended that Suhail's former lawyer did not explore evidence in relation to an alleged sum of $20,000 that the convicted man received from his uncle.

Mr Ravi said this would have shown that Suhail had enough money to splurge on his heroin habit.

But the court said the history of the proceedings showed that the former lawyer had in fact pursued this point.

After the application was dismissed by the court in October last year, the prosecution sought a personal costs order against Mr Ravi, who argued that no such order should be made.

Suhail also wrote to the court to "waive" the costs, on the basis that Mr Ravi had provided services to him without seeking any payment.

But the court said there was no reason why a lawyer who represents a client pro bono should be held to any lower standard than a lawyer representing a paying client.