SINGAPORE : The Attorney-General has appointed Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo, of WongPartnership, to defend a legal suit brought by lawyer M Ravi who is seeking access to certain documents and answers to questions in relation to 11 prison inmates, most of whom are on death row.
The appointment of an external counsel will obviate a potential conflict of interest and ensure the Attorney-General's (AGC) Chambers is above board in dealing with a case where it is the defendant, said lawyers interviewed on Monday (Nov 9).
Mr Ravi's originating summons also named a second defendent - the Superintendent of Changi Prison, who is defended by Mr Abraham Vergis of Providence Asia Law.
One of the plaintiffs in the suit is convicted drug runner Gobi Avedian, who was spared the gallows last month by a five-member Court of Appeal and given 15 years' jail and 10 strokes of the cane instead.
The other plaintiffs are understood to be mainly death row inmates, including convicted drug trafficker Syed Suhail Syed Zin.
The Court of Appeal last month gave Syed Suhail leave for a judicial review to argue his claim that death row inmates are not being treated equally in the scheduling of executions.
Also on the list is Iskandar Rahmat, who got the death sentence for the Kovan Road double murder in July 2013, when he killed a car workshop owner and the man's son. While fleeing in a Toyota Camry along Upper Serangoon Road, he dragged the 42-year-old son under the car.
In his civil suit, Mr Ravi is applying to the court for copies of letters from the Attorney-General (AG) to the Prison seeking from the Prison copies of the 11 inmates' correspondence.
He also wants copies of letters from the Prison to the AG, enclosing copies of the 11 plaintiffs' correspondence.
In addition, he wants copies of the plaintiffs' correspondence that was forwarded by the Prison to the AG, including the enclosures.
Among other things, he wants to know as well if any of the referred inmates' correspondence was not requested by the public prosecutor and whether any of the correspondence was disclosed to the public prosecutor.
His application to the court is for a pre-action discovery based on court rules, meaning he seeks to inspect the documents and obtain answers to related queries to decide if further legal action is to be launched.
In August 2020, the Court of Appeal said, in judgment grounds of the case involving Gobi Avedian, that if the AGC had wished to obtain copies of letters belonging to the prisoner that were in the possession of the prison authorities, the proper procedure would have been to obtain the prisoner's consent or an order of court.
A High Court pre-trial conference is due on November 20.
The AG's move to bring in an external party as defence counsel is to ensure there is no suggestion it is not dealing with this matter appropriately when faced with allegations.
The president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore. Mr Sunil Sudheesan said the appointment was a "prudent move" as the AG had a right to be represented when faced with a suit.
Veteran lawyer Peter Ong Lip Cheng said appointing external counsel will obviate a potential conflict of interest and ensure the AGC is above board in dealing with a case where it is the defendant.
Mr Ong added: "It is also generally accepted to be unwise for a defendant to represent himself."
SC Yeo, when contacted, said: "As allegations have been made against our client, they have engaged us to deal with the matter appropriately and expeditiously.
As the matter is now before the Court, we are not able to comment further."