Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam fined $4,000 for breaching a gag order

Eugene Thuraisingam committed the offence in August last year. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Veteran criminal lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam, 47, was fined $4,000 in a district court on Tuesday (Aug 30) for breaching a gag order, an offence under the State Courts Act.

A second charge under the same Act was considered during sentencing.

The lawyer, who has his own practice, had asked his associate Johannes Hadi, 32, to distribute transcripts to the press that were likely to lead to the identification of a complainant - a woman who had accused a doctor of molestation. 

The two lawyers were part of a team that had represented Dr Yeo Sow Nam, then 52.

All details that could lead to the identity of Dr Yeo's accuser cannot be revealed due to a gag order, as she could be a victim of a sexual crime.

After a trial, Dr Yeo was given a discharge amounting to an acquittal in August last year. This means he cannot be charged again with the same offences.

Both Thuraisingam and Hadi were handed charges under the State Courts Act in April. Hadi's case is pending.

For the current case, Deputy Public Prosecutor Sivakumar Ramasamy told the court on Tuesday that on March 5 last year, Thuraisingam asked the judge handling the molestation case for permission to distribute the trial transcripts to members of the media.

The proceedings were held in camera at the time. This means they were not open to the public, including members of the media.

The judge then granted the application on the basis that Thuraisingam would make the necessary redactions and that there would be no breach of the gag order.

On March 16 last year, Thuraisingam told Hadi via e-mail: “(Please) remember to black out (the complainant’s) name and remind the press that they cannot print (the complainant’s) name.”

However, Thuraisingam did not instruct Hadi to redact all the other information that could likely lead to the woman being identified.

The DPP said that Hadi then redacted only her name from the transcripts and e-mailed them to members of the media.

During a pre-trial conference behind closed doors about three months later, the prosecution applied to withdraw the charges against Dr Yeo.

Thuraisingam then indicated that he would be applying for the gag order to be lifted.

Some time between Aug 4 and 11 last year, he instructed Hadi to distribute to members of the media the transcripts of the trial and their law firm’s written submissions for the gag order lifting application.

However, Thuraisingam did not instruct Hadi to redact all the information that could lead to the revelation of the  woman’s identity.

Hadi e-mailed the documents to members of the media - including those from Singapore Press Holdings and Mediacorp- on Aug 11 last year, with only her name redacted.

Other information that could lead to her identity being revealed such as her age, her current employer, and her occupation at the time of the alleged acts of molestation, were not redacted.

On Aug 16 last year, the court granted the prosecution’s application to withdraw the charges against Dr Yeo. 

Thuraisingam also withdrew the gag order lifting application that day and said then: “If the prosecution says that it’s necessary to protect the alleged complainant’s identity, we take no position.”

On Tuesday, the DPP asked for Thuraisingam to be given a fine of at least $4,000, adding that he had instructed Hadi - his most junior lawyer on the defence team - to redact only the woman’s name.

Defence lawyer Jerrie Tan from K&L Gates Straits Law said that Thuraisingam accepted the prosecution’s submission that he should be fined at least $4,000.

Ms Tan said her client has been a practising lawyer for around 21 years and a large part of his legal practice involves defending poor accused persons facing the death penalty. 

She told the court that he does this on a pro bono basis and has obtained acquittals in a number of cases.

Ms Tan added: "In 2016, Mr Thuraisingam received the Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences award from the Honourable Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon for his work in defending accused persons in capital cases.

"In 2021, the Singapore Law Society Pro Bono Ambassador award was presented to him."

In the molestation case, Dr Yeo had been accused of molesting a woman on the 12th storey of Mount Elizabeth Hospital on the evening of Oct 9, 2017.

After the trial, the prosecution applied in August last year to withdraw the four counts of molestation that Dr Yeo was facing. District Judge Ng Peng Hong then gave him a discharge amounting to an acquittal.

The Attorney-General's Chambers later said that it would not be taking action against the woman.

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