By: Kumaran Pillai
One of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century, Sir Winston Churchill, suffered from mental illness and yet he was able to serve his country in times of crises. Many lawyers afflicted with such a disability have also overcome all odds to serve their communities well.
There are laws protecting people with disabilities. In fact, Singapore is party to an international convention not to discriminate people with disabilities. However, the treatment of Lawyer M Ravi over his recent bipolar lapses in light of our commitment to treat people with disability fairly, rings a little hollow.
Ravi seems a little anxious that he will have to go through a great length of time being unemployed and without any income. He has not been practicing law for the last eight months since his last bipolar relapse and his practicing certificate has lapsed in the meantime.
He has made a fresh application with the Law Society of Singapore for a new practicing certificate and he says that he is not under “suspension” as portrayed by the mainstream media and The Online Citizen (TOC). Suspension would give the impression that he has done some thing wrong and cannot return to practice. In this instance, he is not allowed to practice until his mental state is verified and it has been so verified by his psychiatrist that he is mentally fit to return to the practice of law.
“It is a due process of the law,” said Lawyer M Ravi and every lawyer, not just Ravi has to be mentally fit to practice.
Ravi is thankful to the Law Society for recommending his reinstatement to the bar. However, the Attorney General’s Chambers has taken issue with the supervising lawyer that Ravi had recommended previously. Ravi has proposed a new supervising lawyer to overcome the AGC’s objections.
Under normal circumstances, disciplinary matters are reviewed by the disciplinary committee of the Law Society. In this case, the Law Society has referred Ravi’s matter to the Court of Appeal, which is is presided by CJ Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Tay Yong Kwang, because he is no longer a member of the society.
Ravi informed me that CJ Menon said the courts ought to “punish to protect the standing and dignity of the profession.” The Court of appeal has reserved its judgement and will render it at a later date. There is no exact date provided by the Court of Appeal. So, Ravi has to wait even longer to have his fate decided.
So what does it mean for M Ravi to be in limbo for an extended period of time?
Besides the suffering from a personal loss of income and livelihood for M Ravi, it is a loss to the legal fraternity and the evolution of Singapore’s constitution.
Lawyer Ravi has done numerous pro-bono work for those on death row and can be credited directly for work he has done that resulted in the Singapore Government reviewing the Mandatory Death Penalty in 2012.
According to Jothie Rajah and Arun K. Thiruvengadam, writing in the Wisconsin International Law Journal: “Ravi’s initiative in challenging the legality of the death penalty led to a temporary moratorium on hangings in Singapore for about a year. Ravi’s impact as a cause lawyer has undoubtedly had some effect on the way the Singapore government has approached death penalty cases. It may well be that Ravi is the only lawyer in Singapore who can, at the present time, justifiably lay claim to being called a cause lawyer. ”
Practising lawyers like Alfred Dodwell and Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss also speak highly of Mr Ravi.
“M Ravi is a lionheart. He is brave and courageous in taking on many cases for a cause, such as to question the by-election timelines, to question the constitutionality of the death penalty, to be doing this passionately and without fear has been a real blessing to ensure human rights, constitutional rights and civil liberties are not swept under the carpet in an otherwise fearful legal profession where many are too afraid to rock the boat of their private practice to take up such cases. His mental health is an issue but as long as he is seeing his psychiatrist and taking his prescribed medication and now with a proper supervising solicitor, he would be allowed back into practice as soon as possible. To put it plainly, his brakes are fixed and he should be allowed to drive, no one sells off their car because of faulty brakes.” – Alfred Dodwell
“A wonderful mind accompanied by a wonderful heart. A special person motivated by passion and compassion. A soul sensitive to rights and wrongs. His contributions to the development of law in Singapore is remarkable, significant and valuable. As fellow lawyer, I admire him. As a friend, I am proud of him.” – Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss
Dr Tommy Tan, a Senior Consultant at the Institute of Mental Health Singapore, called upon by the Law Society likened Ravi to a “driver in a car without brakes.”
Given the constitutional roadblocks here in Singapore, perhaps what we need is precisely a man without brakes to drive through the blocks and take it down. To act without fear and to act courageously in the face of adversity. The ruckus he creates from time to time is a nuisance that we bear with. His contributions to our society, on the other hand, is immense.