Court orders lawyer M Ravi to pay prosecution S$5,000 citing improper conduct, abuse of process
SINGAPORE: The Court of Appeal on Friday (May 14) ordered lawyer M Ravi to pay the prosecution personal costs of S$5,000 over an application he made in the case of a drug trafficker on death row.
The three-judge court called Mr Ravi's conduct "egregious", "improper" and even "grandstanding", choosing to advance an unmeritorious application and incurring "unnecessary costs", and raising various arguments "to see what would stick".
Delivering the judgment on behalf of Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash, Justice Andrew Phang said Mr Ravi had brought the application in abuse of process and acted improperly, with his conduct "(falling) short of what is expected of reasonable defence counsel".
The case involved Syed Suhail Syed Zin, who was convicted in 2015 of a capital charge of possessing heroin for trafficking. He was set to hang on Sep 18 last year, but his execution was stayed at the last minute after Mr Ravi stepped in.
Mr Ravi sought a review of the court's 2018 decision to uphold Syed's conviction and sentence on two grounds, but the Court of Appeal dismissed this application for a review in October last year, stressing that the review process is not to be invoked lightly.
READ: Court of Appeal dismisses application by drug trafficker on death row, reminds counsels not to invoke review process lightly
During the hearing, Mr Ravi argued that Senior Counsel Francis Ng and his team of prosecutors should be disqualified from representing the prosecution, because they had come into contact with a letter from Syed to his then-counsel Ramesh Tiwary and four letters from Syed to his uncle.
The court declined to disqualify the prosecution, finding that Mr Ravi had failed to show any basis for his application, especially since none of the prosecutors "had sight of any such letters".
PROSECUTION SOUGHT S$10,000
After dismissing Mr Ravi's application, the court heard arguments about whether a personal costs order is appropriate. The prosecution called for Mr Ravi to pay them S$10,000 in personal costs, saying his conduct was "plainly unreasonable and improper".
The prosecutors said Mr Ravi's real purpose in mounting the review application "appears to have been to frustrate the lawful process of the execution of the sentence provided by law", adopting a "blunderbuss approach" that was an abuse of process.
They added that Mr Ravi had misrepresented or omitted facts about previous proceedings, raised legally unsustainable arguments and made unjustified allegations against Syed's previous counsel without giving him a chance to respond.
Mr Ravi argued that no personal costs order should be made against him, saying he had a reasonable basis to believe in good faith that the application was not bound to fail.
READ: Court of Appeal orders further arguments in case of drug trafficker on death row, execution on hold
The court found that Mr Ravi had made unsubstantiated allegations against Syed's previous lawyer, finding this a "particularly egregious" failure. The allegations were "ultimately distracting" and gave rise to arguments based on false premises, the judges said.
Because Mr Ravi had failed to seek explanations from the previous lawyer over his conduct, the court found that Mr Ravi had failed to take reasonable care to ensure that he presented the truth to the court.
"We state here clearly that such haphazard and irresponsible attempts at reopening concluded appeals will be looked upon with disfavour," said Justice Phang.
COURT SLAMS M RAVI'S CONDUCT
He added that Mr Ravi's arguments lacked any merit as they were attempts to relitigate what had already been conceded or determined in previous proceedings, and there was simply no new evidence or argument to be raised. This was "entirely contrary" to what was required for such an application to be mounted.
The court found the fact that Mr Ravi represented Syed pro bono to be irrelevant, saying that there is no reason for a pro bono lawyer to be held to any lower standard than a lawyer representing a paying client.
While encouraging counsel to take up cases pro bono for needy clients, a practice that exemplifies the best traditions of the Bar, the court said "there is no public interest in withholding criticism and adverse cost orders against counsel whose improper conduct amounts to an abuse of the court's process".
"Put another way, there is a public interest in maintaining standards at the Bar, and it is that interest that a personal costs order in the present case aims to advance," said Justice Phang.
"We hope that Mr Ravi, and indeed all counsel who may be involved in similar proceedings, will take this decision in the spirit in which it is intended, and recognise that the order reflects the fact that defence counsel are indispensable for the proper administration of justice and that the requisite standards have therefore to be rigorously enforced."