High Court dismisses lawyer M. Ravi's claim he was threatened by DPP

Lawyer M Ravi (above) had claimed that a statement made by Deputy Public Prosecutor Wong Woon Kwong during a pre-trial conference on Feb 4 was a threat and had breached his clients' rights to a fair hearing. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Lawyer M. Ravi was reminded in the High Court to conduct himself appropriately and observe standards expected of a lawyer in court, and that he was not, as he had claimed, threatened by a representative of the Attorney-General.

In decisions ground released on Thursday (Feb 13), Justice Valerie Thean dismissed Mr Ravi's claim that a statement made by Deputy Public Prosecutor Wong Woon Kwong during a pre-trial conference on Feb 4 this year was a threat and had breached his clients' rights to a fair hearing.

Mr Ravi is representing two men - 31-year-old Gobi Avedian and Datchinamurthy Kataiah, 34, - who were sentenced to death for capital offences involving drug trafficking.

While in chambers during the pre-trial conference, DPP Wong had said: "I am also instructed to state that we are expressly reserving all our rights against Mr Ravi."

Justice Thean found that there was no basis in the claim that Mr Ravi had been threatened by the Attorney-General.

"First, by simply stating that the AG was reserving its rights against Mr Ravi, Mr Wong was merely communicating a position that should be familiar to all lawyers: the express reservation of existing legal rights that may be exercised in the future," said the judge.

Justice Thean added the statement "served as a salutary reminder to Mr Ravi that he should conduct himself appropriately and in accordance with the standards expected of all counsel as officers of the court".

"I therefore could not see any basis for concluding that Mr Ravi would have felt threatened in any way, or that it would have been reasonable for him to do so or that Mr Wong's communication of the AG's position could have any bearing on how Mr Ravi would conduct the case."

In the decision grounds, Justice Thean also dealt with the applications by the two men on death row to stay the executions of the two death row inmates.

Mr Ravi, who submitted the leave applications on their behalf, had sought permission for a judicial review of the case to proceed. One application sought an order that executions be stayed in the light of an allegation made about the protocol for execution.

Both death row inmates in the application also wanted the court to direct the Attorney-General and the Minister for Home Affairs to provide protection to a former Singapore prison officer from any liabilities, so that he can shed light on the allegations that would support their application.

In his written submissions to the court, Mr Ravi accepted that the court cannot compel the minister or Attorney-General not to prefer charges. He asked the court instead to compel them to consider using their discretion to provide immunity.

Justice Thean noted that the two men had relied on a press statement by Malaysian non-governmental organisation (NGO) Lawyers for Liberty, which contained allegations by a former Singapore prison officer that, in the event that the rope used for execution breaks during the hanging, prison officers were trained and instructed to execute the prisoner by kicking the back of the prisoner's neck.

The statement from the NGO was released on Jan 16 this year.

"Such media reports are not reliable evidence which may be used in judicial proceedings," said the judge.

She further noted the applicants had also included an affidavit by Malaysian lawyer Zaid Abd Malek stating that he had met this former prison officer. In the affidavit, he recounted the former officer's allegations.

"All this is hearsay. The plaintiffs and Mr Zaid have no personal knowledge of matters alleged," ruled Justice Thean, noting the AG had pointed out both the sources were not consistent.

"To my mind, those hazards are expected when comparing unreliable hearsay with unreliable hearsay," said Justice Thean.

The judge found the plaintiffs have not presented any admissible evidence to support their claim other than only bare and unsubstantiated assertions.

By contrast, a senior prison officer had filed an affidavit attesting that the Singapore Prison Service has never carried out training or given instructions as alleged, and there has not been an occasion in which the rope used in executions has broken.

Every execution is witnessed by the superintendent of the prison and a medical officer, said the senior prison officer.

"There is simply no credible basis for leave, much less a prima facie case of reasonable suspicion," said the judge.

In relation to the quest for immunity for the former prison officer as sought by the applicants, Justice Thean noted prosecutorial discretion is the sole province of the AG who has indicated there will be no immunity from prosecution.

The judge also dismissed the application in relation to the Minister, noting the plaintiffs have not in fact sought any decision from the Minister and there is no basis in law to impose a duty on the Minister to consider granting immunity in the manner sought.

There is no basis in law either for the court to grant an immunity order, said Justice Thean.

Mr Ravi said his clients will be appealing the decision.

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