SINGAPORE: On Monday (9 Oct), a lawyer who had provided a written commitment to personally oversee his fellow practitioner, M. Ravi, but ultimately failed to do so, received a six-month suspension.
This penalty, scheduled to commence on January 1, 2024, was imposed by the Court of Three Judges, the highest regulatory body within the legal profession.
The court has indicated that it will provide detailed justifications for its decision at a later date.
M. Ravi, a renowned human rights lawyer, who grapples with bipolar disorder, was determined to be incapable of practicing independently without supervision.
53-year-old Ravi had been given a five-year suspension earlier this year due to accusations of professional misconduct.
In the practice year 2021-2022, he was granted a conditional practising certificate after Mr Cheng Kim Kuan, the lawyer in question, submitted a written commitment to the Supreme Court and the Law Society of Singapore on May 12, 2021.
It’s worth noting that lawyers’ practising certificates are renewed annually in April.
As part of this commitment, Mr Cheng pledged to personally supervise Mr Ravi at his firm, K K Cheng Law, and to take all necessary measures to ensure Mr Ravi’s compliance with the conditions outlined in his practising certificate.
Additionally, he promised to provide monthly reports to both the Law Society and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) and to promptly inform these organizations if he became aware of any circumstances that could impair Mr Ravi’s fitness to practice.
However, for several months, Mr Cheng allowed Mr Ravi significant independence in running his own practice, including the authority to hire his own employees and had limited knowledge of Mr Ravi’s casework.
They even operated from different locations, with Mr Cheng’s firm situated at People’s Park Centre and Mr Ravi working from an office at High Street Centre, which was not leased by the firm.
In November 2021, the AGC sent a series of letters to Mr Cheng outlining Mr Ravi’s behaviour and conduct in various court proceedings and on social media, seeking Mr Cheng’s response.
Following this, Mr Cheng met with Mr Ravi and established additional conditions, including requiring his approval before Mr Ravi could take on a case and insisting that Mr Ravi refrain from making further social media posts related to cases conducted under the firm’s banner. Mr Ravi did not comply with these conditions.
In his response to the AGC, Mr Cheng stated that he neither approved nor supervised Mr Ravi’s legal matters, did not review the documents prepared by Mr Ravi, and was unaware of the incidents involving him.
Mr Cheng also expressed his intention to discontinue his role as Mr. Ravi’s supervisor only after the conclusion of the practice year to prevent disruptions to Mr. Ravi’s practice.
On January 6, 2022, the Attorney-General filed a complaint against Mr Cheng with the Law Society.
Subsequently, a two-member disciplinary tribunal determined that Mr Cheng’s misconduct was sufficiently severe to warrant referral to the Court of Three Judges for disciplinary action.
During the recent hearing, the Law Society, represented by Mr Mark Cham, advocated for a suspension lasting six to eight months, while Mr Cheng’s legal counsel, Mr Ong Ying Ping, suggested a one-month suspension.
In June 2022, High Court ordered Ravi and Mr Cheng to pay AG S$20k for failed application on behalf of 17 death-row inmates
On 23 June last year, A High Court judge ordered Ravi and Mr Cheng to pay the Attorney-General S$20,000 in costs for a failed application by 17 death row inmates who alleged ethnic bias against them.
Justice Valerie Thean found that Mr Ravi and his supervising solicitor Mr Cheng were jointly liable for the costs of the civil case.
Mr Ravi acted for the 17 inmates, who had all been sentenced to death for drug trafficking or drug importation offences. Mr Cheng undertook responsibility for Mr Ravi’s work as a condition of the latter’s practising certificate.
In their application, the inmates sought a declaration that the Attorney-General had discriminated against them as Malays in prosecuting them for the drug offences.
They also alleged that the Central Narcotics Bureau’s investigation practices were “targeted towards intercepting offenders from the Malay community”, said court documents.
Justice Thean had previously dismissed the inmates’ application and described it as an abuse of process.
ICJ said that “the imposition of punitive cost orders has obstructed death-row inmates’ access to justice and effective remedies, their right to legal counsel — with several having had to represent themselves in court — and, in turn, their right to a fair trial and, ultimately, their right to life”.
The group added that the High Court’s holding on cost orders is based on an overly expansive and impermissible interpretation of what constitutes “lack of merit” or “abuse of process”.
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