This article was first published on publichouse.sg on Tuesday. The article has been reproduced here in full with permission from the authors.
By Andrew Loh / Richard Wan
On Monday morning at the High Court, a representative from the Law Society of Singapore attempted to have lawyer Mr M Ravi disallowed from carrying out his legal duties in Court, Mr Ravi told publichouse.sg and TR Emeritus in an exclusive interview in the same afternoon.
Mr Ravi was acting on behalf of Mdm Vellama Marie Muthu in her case to request the Court to declare that the Prime Minister does not have unfettered discretion in deciding when to call by-elections.
Before the proceedings began in the morning, the representative from the Law Society, Mr Wong Siew Hong, had approached both senior counsel Mr David Chong, acting on behalf of the Attorney General, and Mr Ravi, outside the Court room. Apparently, Mr Wong had a copy of a letter from Mr Ravi’s psychiatrist, Dr Calvin Fones, which Dr Fones had earlier sent to the Law Society. The letter was shown to both Mr Chong and Mr Ravi.
In his letter, Dr Fones said: “I reviewed Mr Ravi on Saturday 14 May in my clinic following concerns expressed by his friends about his recent moods and behaviours.”
Mr Ravi has confirmed that the date – 14 May – is wrongly stated by Dr Fones. It should be 14 July instead.
Indeed, Mr Ravi had gone to see Dr Fones because his law firm partner, Ms Violet Netto, was concerned that Mr Ravi was feeling the pressure of the workload he was bearing. Ms Netto, according to Mr Ravi, had asked him to see if he needed for Monday’s court hearing to be adjourned. If so, he would require a doctor’s letter to give to the Court.
On Saturday, Mr Ravi went to see Dr Fones who`gave him a letter, if he needed to provide it to the Court. “I said I don’t need any letters for adjournment and I am shocked that a letter was written,” Mr Ravi said. Dr Fones also told Mr Ravi that he could go back to him if required and provided Mr Ravi with the letter. Dr Fones basically said Mr Ravi is under a lot of stress and that he may not be able to attend Court. In effect, it was a medical certificate.
On Sunday, however, Mr Ravi was already feeling better and felt he could attend Court on Monday, which he did. Dr Fones’ letter to the Law Society, however, said Mr Ravi “is having a manic relapse of his Bipolar Disorder” and added that Mr Ravi “is currently unfit to practice law and his illness is likely to affect his professional capacity.” Dr Fones' letter, noticeably, was written in the present tense, although he had seen Mr Ravi two days prior.
Dr Fones letter was dated 16 July 2012 which, incidentally, was Monday, the day the hearing into the by-election case took place.
According to Mr Ravi, Mr Chong seemed disinterested in what Mr Wong had to say at first. Both parties then proceeded to Court to submit their arguments on the case at hand, the PM’s discretionary powers on by-elections.
Mr Ravi made his submissions, followed by Mr Chong. However, before Mr Chong spoke on the by-election issue, he informed the Court that there were certain matters to be addressed in Chambers before he proceeded.
Justice Philip Pillai, the presiding judge, asked Mr Ravi if he had anything to raise in Chambers. Mr Ravi said he had none. The judge then proceeded with the hearing and Mr Chong went on with his submissions on the by-election case.
After the proceedings had ended, Mr Wong – the Law Society representative – asked to address the Court. Justice Pillai then called all parties into Chambers where Mr Wong argued why Mr Ravi should not be allowed to continue with the case.
Justice Pillai, who was reported to be upset with Mr Wong’s intrusion into the Court room earlier, said that the behaviour of Mr Wong was “unprecedented” and admonished Mr Wong and the Law Society for it. He asked Mr Wong if Mr Ravi currently had a valid practising certificate, to which Mr Wong answered affirmatively. The judge said that was the only thing he was interested in and said since Mr Ravi had a valid certificate, he was free to act in Court.
“Justice Pillai made clear that the Law Society had nothing in the day’s proceedings,” Mr Ravi told publichouse.sg and TR Emeritus.
In the afternoon of the same day, an associate from Mr Ravi’s law firm was representing Mr Ravi in another case in a separate Court involving another client. The Law Society too tried to get that Court to halt proceedings on the same grounds, that Mr Ravi was unfit to practise – even though Mr Ravi was not in Court for that hearing. The judge dismissed the Law Society’s arguments and allowed proceedings to continue.
According to the Legal Professions Act:
“25C.—(1) If the Attorney-General or the Council is satisfied that a solicitor’s fitness to practise appears to have been impaired by reason of the solicitor’s physical or mental condition, the Attorney-General or the Council (as the case may be) may apply to a Judge by originating summons for`an order that the solicitor submit to a medical examination.”
No such summons had been filed by the Attorney General or the Law Society for Monday’s hearing.
It is however unclear if Dr Fones’ action of providing his diagnosis of Mr Ravi’s alleged medical condition to the Law Society is because Mr Ravi had given his permission for the doctor to send his medical reports, henceforth, to the Law Society, following an earlier case in 2008. In August that year, Mr Ravi was ordered by District Judge Carol Ling to submit himself to “psychiatric evaluation” at the Institute of Mental Health, after the Attorney General had received the Court's approval to compel Mr Ravi to do so.
When asked about this, Mr Ravi said there were conditions on how the doctor could divulge information of his medical evaluation and to whom. The doctor could only do so after he had examined him and after Mr Ravi had seen the report. Also, the report was to be made known only to his law firm partner, Ms Violet Netto, and Mr Ravi’s younger sister. Neither was informed of Dr Fones’ diagnosis before the letter was sent to the Law Society on Monday.
Moreover, Mr Ravi said Dr Fones had seen him for only 10 minutes on Saturday, and thus questions if that is enough time for the doctor to assess him and to say that he had had a "relapse."
Mr Ravi maintains that he is well and that this was evident in his behaviour in Court on Monday. He says that the fact that Justice Pillai allowed him to continue with the hearing and to make his submissions showed that there was nothing wrong with him.
Also, he said, the Court room was packed in the gallery with members of the public who would have noticed if he had acted unusually. He also questioned why, if he was having a relapse as Dr Fones claimed, were his law firm and family not informed, and why only the Law Society was informed about his alleged conditions.
Finally, Mr Ravi asked why Dr Fones had not prescribed him any medication, if his diagnosis was a serious one.
Mr Ravi said the Court and the Law Society had been fed “wrong information”, referring to Dr Fones’ letter. He described what Dr Fones had written as “ridiculous.”
“He did not examine me today,” Mr Ravi said on Monday.
He also referred to Dr Fones’ claim that Mr Ravi’s “friends” had expressed “concerns” about Mr Ravi’s behaviour. “I do not know which friends they are,” Mr Ravi said, “because I’ve asked Violet Netto, who is my associate. If at all anyone should complain, it’s her. [But] she said she had not spoken to anyone. So this is really out of line, to damage my character and reputation.”
Mr Ravi admitted that he “is a little stressed” but added that this was not unusual and that this was understandably so as he has been involved in many cases” of late.
“To set the record straight, I am well,” he said. “The public saw my performance, the judge definitely was with me.”
Indeed, a member of the public seated at the public gallery – Mr Ng - felt that Mr Ravi had conducted himself professionally and had not noticed anything wrong or unusual about the proceedings, he told publichouse.sg.
Mr Ravi has been involved in death penalty cases for 10 years and is recognised as Singapore’s most eminent human rights lawyer. His most prominent capital cases include those of Nigerian Amara Tochi and Malaysian Yong Vui Kong, who currently sits on Singapore’s death row. A week ago, he was invited by the United Nations rappoteurs on the death penalty to a consultation in New York where Mr Ravi gave his views on Singapore's use of the death penalty. The rappoteurs' reports will be presented to the United Nations' General Assembly later this year.
On Tuesday, Mr Ravi goes back to Court for a pre-trial conference, to act on behalf of Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam. Mr Jeyaretnam is seeking an injunction from the Court to stop the Singapore Government from providing loans to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as part of the IMF’s plan for the Eurozone. Mr Jeyaretnam is arguing that the Singapore Government was in breach of the Constitution by not first having sought the approval of the elected president and Parliament.
As for Monday’s case into the PM’s discretionary powers in calling by-elections, Justice Pillai has reserved judgement.
“I love Singapore, I love my people,” Mr Ravi said. “That’s the reason why I am here despite all odds.”
Here's a 3 minute interview with Mr Ravi on Monday afternoon:
Andrew helms publichouse.sg as Editor-in-Chief. His writings have been reproduced in other publications, including the Australian Housing Journal in 2010. He was nominated by Yahoo! Singapore as one of Singapore's most influential media persons in 2011.
Richard Wan is an editor from Temasek Review Emeritus.