A Singapore court today slapped a total of S$20,000 in fines on two prominent lawyers for their role in representing Malaysian death row inmate Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam just before his controversial execution late last month.
The decision came after exchanges between lawyer M Ravi and the chief justice, with the prominent rights activist rejecting accusations that he did not follow the standards expected of a lawyer in filing the 11th hour applications in court to save Nagaenthran’s life.
“History will be with me and will judge me,” said Ravi, who was told to pay the fine to the attorney-general alongside fellow lawyer Violet Netto.
The latest move is seen as part of an ongoing attempt by Singapore authorities to stifle legal aid given to death row inmates, as the city-state rejects international criticism over a spate of executions of drug mules despite warnings that it is breaching its own constitution as well as international treaties.
Nagaenthran, who had been diagnosed with a low IQ that made him unfit for capital punishment, was hanged on April 27, hours after his mother travelled to Singapore to plead her son’s case. Critics said no lawyers in the republic had come forward to represent Nagaenthran in his final hours due to fears of state reprisal such as that experienced by Ravi and Netto.
The attorney-general in his application against the duo had sought punitive cost orders of S$40,000 from them over their defence of Nagaenthran.
In court papers sighted by MalaysiaNow, Ravi defended his efforts to halt Nagaenthran’s execution, and slammed moves to punish lawyers for doing their job.
“The question of execution of persons with low IQ or intellectual disabilities is of public importance and is a novel point as well. To ask that the applicant’s counsel and former counsel be dealt with an iron fist with a personal cost order is too harsh in the circumstances, to say the least,” he added.
Ravi had also faced a string of professional disciplinary inquiries which could result in him being fined, suspended or struck off as a lawyer.
This includes three contempt of court proceedings as well as a number of police investigations.
These were ascribed to his years of work defending the rights of drug mules on death row in the island republic, including Nagaenthran who was convicted for trafficking 43g – about three tablespoons – of heroin into Singapore.
Most recently, Ravi and another fellow lawyer were ordered to pay S$10,000 (RM31,500) in personal costs to the attorney-general over an ethnic discrimination suit filed by 17 Malay death row convicts.
The judge said then that Ravi had pursued the suit even when told that it had not received consent from the attorney-general.