A prominent Singapore lawyer who had actively represented prisoners on death row including Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam is now under investigation by authorities, amid what critics say is a crackdown on lawyers who challenge the city-state’s narrative on capital punishment.
Singapore police said they launched an investigation after receiving a report on April 27 against the woman, whom The Straits Times identified as Violet Netto.
Netto was accused of acting as an advocate and solicitor without a valid certificate on at least three occasions, the report said.
Violet, 78, has declined to comment, citing ongoing investigations.
Lawyers convicted of acting without a certificate face fines of up to S$25,000, a maximum jail term of one year, or both.
This comes as critics hit out at a number of disciplinary and contempt of court actions against another prominent lawyer, M Ravi, who has been a vocal critic of Singapore’s capital punishment and represented convicts on death row.
Ravi faces seven separate professional disciplinary inquiries which could result in him being fined, suspended or struck off as a lawyer, in addition to three contempt proceedings as well as a number of police investigations. Authorities have also banned him from travelling to Malaysia despite repeated appeals.
Violet was part of the team of lawyers who represented Nagaenthran in his efforts to halt the death sentence handed down to him in 2010 for trafficking a small amount of heroin into Singapore.
Lawyers and rights groups had said that Nagaenthran’s case was part of a pattern where those from poor families forced to transport drugs are executed while the kingpins who hire them have largely escaped Singapore’s draconian laws on drug trafficking.
Nagaenthran’s plight received international attention including from British aviation magnate Richard Branson, given his IQ of 69 – a level recognised as a disability – which would render his execution illegal under Singapore laws as well as a violation of international treaties.
He was hanged on April 27 despite a last-ditch attempt by his mother who appeared in court herself after failing to find a lawyer willing to represent him.
Violet had also represented Singaporean Roslan Bakar and Malaysian Pausi Jefridin, two mentally disabled prisoners likewise on death row in the city-state.
Roslan and Pausi lost their appeals on March 16, with the High Court judge saying no new arguments had been raised that were different from earlier pleas, and accusing them of abusing the court process.