Criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan, who became a household name for standing up for those who had nowhere else to turn to, died yesterday morning of heart failure. He was 67.
Leading the host of tributes was Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, who said Mr Subhas' strong sense of justice made him a "legal legend".
"Described by many as a titan in criminal law, Subhas' name is synonymous with tenaciousness in court, a sharp intellect and above all, a generous heart," added Mr Shanmugam, who called Mr Subhas a dear friend.
"His unswerving belief in fair representation for the accused, and granting them a second chance in life, makes him an inspiring role model for the rest of the Criminal Bar."
Mr Subhas had long battled health problems - he had had three heart attacks since 1978, lost one kidney to cancer in 2001, and suffered from diabetes. Despite being diagnosed with heart and kidney failure at the turn of last year, Mr Subhas, a senior partner at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, returned to court in June.
While undergoing routine dialysis at Singapore General Hospital yesterday, his heart stopped. He was declared dead some time after 11am. He leaves his wife Vimala, 56, and son Sujesh, 24. Mr Subhas will be cremated today at 6pm at Mandai Crematorium.
Family members, close friends, and those in the legal fraternity attended his wake at his family home in Leonie Hill yesterday evening, with many in tears.
Among them were former chief justice Chan Sek Keong, who trained Mr Subhas during his pupillage, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah, lawyers Noor Mohamed Marican, who has known Mr Subhas since their university days, and Amolat Singh, and former MP Michael Palmer.
Mr Subhas' family declined to be interviewed. His nephew Sunil Sudheesan, 35, told The Straits Times that he was informed about Mr Subhas' death before an appeal case yesterday. But he stayed in court till the case was over before going to the hospital. Tearing up, Mr Sunil, who worked with his uncle, said: "He would have wanted me to finish the appeal."
Mr Subhas had taken on more than 2,500 cases since being called to the Bar in 1971, and defended some of the country's most notorious criminals, including vegetable packer Took Leng How, who killed an eight- year-old girl, Huang Na, in 2004.
In a November interview with The Sunday Times, he said: "However heinous your offence is, I think you deserve a proper defence, especially in capital cases."
Attorney-General V.K. Rajah said yesterday that Mr Subhas had "an uncanny legal acumen" that identified the most persuasive points to be made, even in apparently "hopeless" cases. He also praised him for being a pioneer in promoting pro bono services long before it was recognised as an essential part of legal practice.
Criminal lawyer Josephus Tan, who took his pupillage under Mr Subhas and was the Law Society's pro bono ambassador, said: "With him, I saw a heart of gold for pro bono work, for fighting for the underdog."
Ms Indranee described him as a "trailblazer". She said: "As a person, he was generous in spirit, humble, and those who knew him will also remember his gentle but acutely incisive sense of humour that was his trademark."
Mr Subhas' long-time friends expressed shock at his sudden death. Mr Singh, who knew Mr Subhas for 20 years and worked on a few capital cases with him, said: "He was always a fighter, a larger-than-life character."
Mr Marican revealed that just two weeks ago, Mr Subhas said he wanted to step down as president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, which he founded in 2004, because of his poor health. "We didn't want to let him go because he was indispensable. He has left a massive hole in the profession through his passing. But we want to give our best and carry on his work."
Additional reporting by Selina Lum