SINGAPORE - Lawyer M. Ravi has been handed the maximum suspension of five years for making “baseless and grave” allegations against the Attorney-General, prosecutors and the Law Society that undermine the integrity of Singapore’s justice system.
The misconduct arose out of comments that he made to sociopolitical website The Online Citizen (TOC), as well as comments he posted on Facebook, after the Court of Appeal reversed his client’s death sentence in 2020.
A disciplinary tribunal had earlier found Mr Ravi guilty of three out of four misconduct charges and ordered him to pay a penalty of $6,000, but the Law Society pushed for more serious sanctions.
On Tuesday, the Court of Three Judges said Mr Ravi’s grievous allegations against essential pillars of Singapore’s legal system went beyond attacks on the integrity of these institutions themselves and, more fundamentally, cast doubt on the fairness and integrity of the criminal justice system as a whole.
“Mr Ravi’s misconduct exhibits a fundamental lack of respect and a blatant disregard for the integrity of Singapore’s key legal institutions,” said the court in a written judgment delivered by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.
The court said Mr Ravi’s misconduct “discloses an ingrained belief which points to a defect in character rather than a mere lapse in judgment”.
“Indeed, Mr Ravi’s misconduct is aggravated by his persistence in seeking to undermine the integrity of the legal profession with indifference to the truth,” said the court.
The disciplinary proceedings stemmed from a case in which Mr Ravi acted for Malaysian Gobi Avedian in seeking a review of his death sentence for importing 40.22g of heroin.
Gobi first escaped the death penalty in 2017 after the High Court convicted him of a lesser charge and sentenced him to 15 years’ jail and 10 strokes of the cane.
In 2018, the Court of Appeal convicted Gobi of the original capital charge after an appeal by the prosecution.
In 2020, after reviewing Gobi’s case, the apex court set aside its previous decision and reinstated his initial conviction and sentence, in the light of its ruling on a separate case.
Shortly after the apex court’s decision on Oct 19, 2020, Mr Ravi gave an interview to TOC outside the Supreme Court building.
He alleged that the Attorney-General had been “overzealous” in prosecuting Gobi, and that the apex court had called into question whether the prosecution had acted fairly.
The next day, then Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair wrote to Mr Ravi, seeking an apology and a retraction.
Mr Ravi uploaded the letter on Facebook and said in his post that he had been instructed by his client to take legal action against the Attorney-General and other prosecutors.
He also said he would start legal proceedings against the Law Society if it failed to “do its part to protect lawyers and the independence of the profession”.
Mr Ravi wrote back to Mr Nair, reiterating that he had been instructed to take legal action, and uploaded his reply on Facebook.
After a complaint by Mr Nair, the Law Society brought four misconduct charges against Mr Ravi. An independent disciplinary tribunal found him guilty of three charges.
On Tuesday, the court said this was a case where a striking-off should be considered.
But having considered the relevant precedents and the circumstances of the case, the court concluded that imposing the maximum term of suspension is the appropriate sanction.
The court noted Mr Ravi’s history of similar disciplinary cases over the past 15 years. They include a one-year suspension for behaving rudely before a district judge, a $3,000 penalty for making various allegations against a High Court judge, and a $10,000 penalty for making various allegations against a deputy public prosecutor and a district judge.
“These antecedents demonstrate a degree of recalcitrance on Mr Ravi’s part, and also lay bare the obvious insincerity behind Mr Ravi’s claimed remorse in each successive instance,” it said.
Mr Ravi’s conduct at the hearing before the court again indicated “an utter lack of remorse” as he doubled down on his allegations and even suggested that the apex court had abdicated its duties by not taking the initiative to review Gobi’s case.
The court said it was evident Mr Ravi viewed himself as a victim of a system that tolerated the abuse of prosecutorial power and the abdication of duty by the court, and that he cast himself as someone who was simply “zealously pursuing” his oath within this allegedly unjust and oppressive system.