Unusual courtroom tales part of lawyer's memoirs

Mr Swami's (left) book, About Kings, Killers & Justice, will be launched next month.
Mr Swami's (above) book, About Kings, Killers & Justice, will be launched next month.

Anecdotes of cases Mr Swami defended as a lawyer include how he 'let a killer loose'

When lawyer M. N. Swami argued his way to get a man accused of murder acquitted after a jury trial, the judge later told him in chambers he had let a killer loose.

Time proved the judge right and the acquitted man committed another murder more than a year later, was convicted and hanged.

Such tales of the unusual and the unexpected make for the memoirs of Mr Swami, 80, in a book - About Kings, Killers & Justice - to be launched next month.

Mr Swami also served as Nepal's first honorary consul-general to Singapore for more than 15 years.

In the case, he recalled how Justice Murray Buttrose, who served between 1954 and 1968, had called him to his chambers and asked what made him think his client was innocent.

Mr Swami's book (above), About Kings, Killers & Justice, will be launched next month.

"I told him his looks, his demeanour, his firm belief in God and the improbability of him killing another human being,"said Mr Swami.

"The judge shook his head and told me that besides the evidence in court, the accused had a stunted thumb, which to him, bore the mark of a potential killer," he said.

Mr Swami had his doubts, but the accused man was later detained for a year under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.

A few weeks after his release, he was involved in another murder, but Mr Swami declined to defend him.

"I could not bring myself to defend someone who had already killed once before. The judge's comments were also fresh in my mind," he said.

Mr Swami said the episode demonstrated the good working relationship between the Bench and the Bar. But things have changed, and now judges and lawyers keep each other at arm's length.

He added: "In my 50 years at the Bar, I have observed a decline in the level of trust of the public towards members of the Bar. Respect of the Bench for lawyers, too, has dwindled."

Mr Swami has peppered the book with memorable anecdotes about some of the cases he defended as a lawyer.

One was of a father who, on the witness stand at the trial of his son for the murder of his step-son, stunned the court by asking that his son be hanged.

The accused was subsequently convicted for culpable homicide and jailed for seven years.

  • Man who helped Nepali twins' op

  • Among the many missions undertaken by Mr M. N. Swami, Nepal's former honorary consul-general to Singapore, one of the best known was the effort to save twin girls joined at the head.

    Ganga and Jamuna Shrestha arrived in Singapore in late 2000 and were operated on the next year. The operation at Singapore General Hospital, which gripped the nation, was a world first, separating their brains and major blood vessels in a five-day operation.

    He said the medical success would not have been possible without the generous and broad-based support. Singaporeans raised $660,000 for the operation and medical care.

    In 2008, Ganga died in Kathmandu of meningitis.

    Mr Swami chronicles the fund-raising saga from its genesis to completion, with unstinting support from temples and charities.

    K. C. Vijayan

Married to Dr Saroja Swami, 77, Mr Swami has three grown-up children and four grandchildren.

His 50 years in legal practice are just one major aspect of his life.

Another facet is his relationship with Nepal's royal family, headed by King Birendra, who was slain with his wife and other family members in 2001, allegedly by his elder son, Prince Dipendra.

Mr Swami expressed doubts that the prince, whom he had met in Singapore, was "a one-man army" who could carry out the bloodbath in the palace.

In a message for the book, former MP and NUS associate professorial fellow S. Vasoo lauded Mr Swami as a "well known grassroots lawyer and community service volunteer in Singapore" who "will never say 'no' to those who have sought his help".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2016, with the headline 'Unusual courtroom tales part of lawyer's memoirs'. Print Edition | Subscribe