Lawyer reprimanded, gets additional fine for poem on death penalty

The tribunal found Mr Eugene Thuraisingam's remorse genuine, and noted that he was unlikely to reoffend.
The tribunal found Mr Eugene Thuraisingam's remorse genuine, and noted that he was unlikely to reoffend.

A tribunal has ruled that lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam had not intended to attack the judiciary with his death penalty poem, which was earlier found to be in contempt of court.

The ruling meant he was fined instead of being referred to the Court of Three Judges, the highest disciplinary body to deal with lawyer misconduct.

The lawyer was fined $6,000 by the High Court in August last year, after he pleaded guilty to posting a 22-line poem on his Facebook page in May the same year that was ruled in contempt of court. The posting went up hours before his client was hanged for drug trafficking.

The Attorney-General had complained that in his poem, Mr Thuraisingam alleged that "million dollar men", including judges, had "turned blind" to a cruel and unjust law, and were more concerned with acquiring financial wealth and material goods.

In addition to the sentence dealt to him by the High Court, Mr Thuraisingam was facing disciplinary action for failing to meet the standard of conduct befitting his role.

But the tribunal, in its report released last week, deemed that his misconduct was not grave enough for action under a higher disciplinary body, where he could have been struck off the roll of advocates and solicitors. Instead, he was reprimanded and recommended to be fined $18,000 in April this year. The Council of the Law Society later reduced this to $5,000.

The tribunal, appointed by the Chief Justice, comprised Senior Counsel Cavinder Bull and lawyer Teo Weng Kie. In the report, the tribunal noted that the reference to judges in Mr Thuraisingam's poem "is more likely to have been an authorial misstep than a deliberate assault upon judicial integrity", as the poem's meaning would not have changed significantly if the reference to judges was removed.

 

The most compelling point of mitigation for Mr Thuraisingam was his efforts to remedy and apologise for his contempt, said the report.He immediately removed the Facebook post after receiving a letter from the Attorney-General informing him of his transgressions. He later also posted a public apology for his poem.

The tribunal also found that Mr Thuraisingam's remorse for his actions was genuine, and noted that he was unlikely to reoffend.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2018, with the headline 'Lawyer reprimanded, gets additional fine for poem on death penalty'. Print Edition | Subscribe