Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) today hit out at the Singapore government over attempts to stop or discourage rights lawyers from taking on public interest cases, warning that such moves will deprive prisoners of their right to legal representation and undermine the rule of law.
In a statement, it referred to applications by the Singapore Law Society and the attorney-general to stop prominent lawyer M Ravi from practising in the republic, saying that he and other rights lawyers are being “punished” for their work.
“It is undeniable that M Ravi is being singled out, in view of the numerous applications filed against him for representing the death row inmates.
“The exorbitant costs orders sought against him, as well as other lawyers like Violet Netto and Charles Yeo reflect the bleak legal landscape in Singapore where lawyers are actively punished and deterred from taking on public interest cases that directly challenges the government or the system,” it said in a statement by its chief coordinator Zaid Malek.
Ravi, Violet and Yeo had worked on the case of Singaporean Roslan Bakar and Malaysian Pausi Jefridin, two mentally disabled prisoners on death row in the city-state who were scheduled to hang for trafficking drugs in Singapore.
They were granted a last-minute respite by Singapore President Halimah Yacob on Feb 17, but their appeals were rejected by the High Court yesterday.
The Singapore attorney-general had served Ravi with contempt of court applications following his efforts in the case, with LFL saying last month that these were allegedly based on his conduct during two cases handled in November last year.
LFL also said that it was “baffling and suspicious” that the contempt charges were only activated as Ravi was working on the case of Roslan and Pausi.
It said today that such action against Ravi would ultimately deny prisoners facing capital charges their right to legal representation.
“Lawyers would be reluctant to take on cases for fear of personal costs being ordered against them as well as the risk of being suspended or even removed from legal practice.
“The rule of law will hence be undermined,” it said, urging the Singapore government to take heed of its own constitution which recognises the right of any person to be defended by a legal practitioner of their choice.
“The constant harassment of lawyers and the creation of a culture of fear among legal practitioners is essentially an underhanded way of removing this right. This must not be tolerated.
“We urge the Singapore government to hold up its own constitution and protect the rights of legal representation, which must be done by ensuring that lawyers are protected from intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference, when carrying out their duties on behalf of clients.”