Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Singapore. Law Society of Singapore vs Pallichadath Gopalan Nair.

Correct name and contact particulars of Madan DT Assomull who is referred to in this post:

Madan DT Assomull
Assomull and Partners
111 North Bridge Road, #22
04/05/06 Peninsula Plaza,
Singapore 179098
Tel: 6339 4466

He shares his office with 3 other lawyers. I understand this building is where the Burmese dissidents in Singapore meet.

Dec 08, 2007
Gopalan Nair
Fremont, Northern California

Ladies and Gentlemen,

About 1988, JB Jeyaretnam returned to Singapore from London jubilant. He was cleared of all wrong doing by the Privy Council of London, the highest court in England and Wales. He had been convicted by Singapore courts of criminal breach of trust and filing a false Affidavit while he was a bankrupt as a result of Lee Kuan Yew suing him for defamation in Lee Kuan Yew's compliant Singapore courts. He was also disbarred from practicing law.

JB Jeyaretnam had appealed his disbarment from practicing law to the highest court of appeal, the Privy Council in London. The Privy Council of London expressly stated JB Jeyaretnam was not guilty of any blame or any crime. He was completely vindicated.

They ordered the Singapore Bar to restore him to the Rolls as an attorney. But since Singapore law did not allow any appeal on the criminal charges to the Privy Council, they could only recommend, which they specifically did, that JB Jeyaretnm should ask for a pardon from the President of Singapore, and an express implication that such a request should be granted.

From the facts, it would have appeared very clear to any layman that JB Jeyaretnam was not guilty. In fact the Privy Council stated the Singapore courts had clearly abused their power by the following dictum: " By a series of misjudgements, JB Jeyaretnam and Wong Hong Toy had been fined and imprisoned"

The events surrounding this case are tortuous. I suggest the reader to read a background to it, which is widely available in the Internet. The case is "The Law Society of Singapore vs JB Jeyaretnam".

The reader should know that the parties to JB Jeyaretnam's case before the Privy Council were the Law Society of Singapore and JB Jeyaretnam. JB Jeyaretnam by this appeal was seeking to reverse his disbarment, ordered by the Singapore Law Society; and that he be allowed to practice law again.

The appeal to the highest court in London was still available at that time in attorney disciplinary proceedings, although no longer available now. The case involved the Law Society of Singapore and the Singapore courts disbarring JB Jeyaretnam from practice because he was convicted by the Singapore courts for the criminal offence of breach of trust and lying on an Affidavit. As I had said, it was trumped up, and as the English court had said, JB Jeyaretnam was not guilty at all.

On his return to Singapore, as the Privy Council had suggested, JB Jeyaretnam had dutifully applied to the President of Singapore for a pardon. At that time, around 1988, the Attorney General was Mr. Tan Boon Teck. Writing on behalf of the President of Singapore, Tan Boon Teck published a letter in the state controlled newspaper in Singapore, the Straits Times, arguing that he should not be given a pardon for the following reasons:

1. He had not shown any remorse repentance or contrition for the crimes he committed.

2. The Privy Council, other than having the power to reinstate him to the Bar had no business going around making comments on the criminal offenses, since they had no authority to decide on the criminal aspects.

3. That the Attorney General was given no opportunity to be heard before the London court, therefore the judgment was flawed.

During this time, 1988, I was an active member of the Workers Party. I was also in active law practice. Reading the Attorney General's preposterous claims, I felt duty bound, at least as a self respecting human that this should not go unanswered.

I wrote a letter to the Attorney General in my office stationary, Gopalan Nair Advocates and Solicitors, 03-04 Golden Mile Complex, Beach Road, Singapore. In that letter I asked him to explain the following:

1. Since the Lordships of the Privy Council had expressly stated that Jeyaretnam was not guilty of any crimes, why should he be expected to show "remorse repentance and contrition"? He was innocent! Innocent people need not show remorse etc!

2. Yes it is true that the Privy Council had no jurisdiction to deliver judgment on the criminal cases. But since the criminal cases will decide whether Jeyaretnam is a fit person to practice law, they have had to look at the criminal cases which they did. And having seen them, they find Jeyaretnam not guilty.

3. It was clear from what transpired at the Privy Council that the judges had expressly asked the lawyer representing the Law Society of Singapore whether the Singapore authorities were aware of the proceedings. Only after making sure from the counsel for the Law Society that the Singapore government was aware of the proccedings and did not make any application to intervene; did they proceed to hear the case.

In the light of these facts, I asked the Attorney General why did he claim that he was not "given an opportunity to be heard" when the facts clearly showed that he had every oppurtunity to be heard before the London court but chose not to appear.

The Attorney General's reply was prompt and brief. He wrote that he was not a party to the proceedings. And secondly, if I wanted answers I should ask JB Jeyaretnam.

I wasn't satisfied with his letter. I wrote again. This time I told him that unless he gave me satisfactory answers, I will publish the correspondence to the entire legal profession in Singapore.

To this letter, the Attorney General stated that I was "scurrilous" and that I had "leveled false accusations against him" and “threatened" him and that he was going to report me to the Law Society for unethical conduct.

True to my threat, I had faxed my letters to him and his to me, to all the lawyers in Singapore. I believe even today, many lawyers still have that correspondence.

I was placed on disciplinary proceedings by the Law Society. Mr. Madan Dollattram T Assumull appeared for the Law Society. Mr. Jeyaretnam appeared for me.

As for my actions, JB Jeyaretnam was never my client. What I wrote was entirely as a layman. Nothing in what I said was unethical. I had merely asked questions and had distributed the correspondence. I had never falsely accused the Attorney General. I had merely said that if indeed, the events reported to have occurred before the Privy Council were true, then he had no basis to say that he was "not given an opportunity to be heard".

I understand that the Law Society had decided that there was no basis to proceed against me either. As the Legal Profession Act had a provision which was recently introduced to allow the Attorney General to insist on prosecution, above the decision of the Law Society, he exercised this right, compelling the Law Society to institute proceedings which they did.

The disciplinary proceedings were interesting. The disciplinary proceedings judge was Retired Judge Choor Singh. The court room was a disused room on the very top floor of Singapore Supreme Court.

The first day of hearing. Assomull comes in and says the Attorney General is not free. He has gone to China. He will only return a month later. Case continued for a month. We come back a moth later. Again same thing. Attorney General gone to Timbuktu or who knows where. Case adjourned 2 weeks. This went on a few times. You see, the purpose of the repeated continuances was perhaps to make me admit the charges. I on the other hand had no intention of admitting anything.

Finally the case begins. Assomull states his case. He conveniently hides the fact that the English Bar had given an opinion that had this happened in England, no action would have been taken. He instead produces an opinion from the Law Society of England that says, provided it can be shown that a lawyer deliberately accuses another of wrongdoing knowing it to be untrue, he can be punished. But the punishment is unlikely to be more than a reprimand.

These facts did not apply to me at all. All I had said to the Attorney General was that, if indeed what had transpired before the London court was correct, then his assertion that he was not given an oppurtunity to appear before the court, cannot stand. This was merely a request for information. Nothing more.

Then came my turn before the judge. Assomull began to ask the questions. This was my turn to be a Mandela at the Rivona Trial or “I am prepared to die speech".

I began to explain why I did what I did. To state that Singapore was not a democracy. That it denies its people free speech and so on. That it is intolerant of any criticism. And so on. Choor Singh was not happy that I was taking the opportunity to make a political speech. Being a Lee Kuan Yew’s stooge, he wanted to have me found guilty in quick time, knowing that my political allegations may become embarrassing to his master. He said, I should only answer the question, preferably with a "yes" or "no" answer. I refused this. I said I was either going to testify the way I want or none at all.

Choor Singh finding himself in a quandary had to give in. I made my long speeches. It has all been recorded. I have the record.

During the proceedings which took several weeks, by an uncanny coincidence, Mr. Martin Thomas QC, Jeyaretnam's lawyer before the London court, happened to be passing Singapore on his way for vacation in Tioman. He agreed to testify at my hearing.

As to the events before the London court, he was very clear. He said specifically that the English judges had specifically asked of the Law Society lawyer whether the Singapore authorities were aware of the proceedings. The answer was yes. And the fact that they had not applied to be heard. This clearly showed the untenability of the Attorney General's claim that he had "no opportunity to be heard".

There was one occasion that was hilarious. Martin Thomas QC had said that the English judges had asked if the "Singapore authorities" were aware of the case. Mr. Assomull had thought that this was a major break through for him. He kept cross examining Martin Thomas trying to pin him down to the fact that they had used the words "Singapore authorities" and had not specifically said "Singapore Attorney General". Therefore Assomull's question to Martin Thomas was whether the English judges could have someone else in mind other than the Singapore Attorney General when they used the words "Singapore authorities".

Martin Thomas's answer was so hilarious that it was impossible not to laugh. He said “I am sure that when the judges said "Singapore authorities" they meant the Singapore Attorney General. I don't think they wanted to know whether the Hong Kong Fire Brigade was interested in those proceedings"!

Anyhow, the case went on. Dragged on for many days. Weeks. I had my fun. Jeyaretnam had his fun cross examining the Attorney General.

At times I wondered whether the case was actually about me, or was it about Jeyaretnam.
Jeyaretnam and the Attorney General were both going against each other like alley cats in a brawl.

As expected, I was found guilty. I was found guilty of making false accusations against the Attorney General and threatening the Attorney General. The case was being sent to the Singapore High Court for them to decide how I should be punished.

At this time I was beginning to lose all faith in the Singapore legal system. I was beginning to realize that my legal practice before these state controlled judiciary was at an end. There was no prospects.

I could if I wanted to become another Jeyaretnam. A martyr; sued, impoverished and disbarred. But I was not prepared. Why should I? I am a lawyer. I had my life ahead of me. Since there is no way that I could succeed in these courts short of selling my conscience to the devil, there appeared no point.

Then there was another case in 1991 against me about which I will write next time.

I had been in England and knew what it was. I had also earlier made a visit to San Francisco. I liked what I saw.

I made preparations to leave for San Francisco. The case finally came to the High Court in 1992 0r 1993. At that time I was living in Oakland. I read about my fate from a copy of the Straits Times that someone had sent to me.

The Singapore judges hearing my case were Yong Pong Howe, Pannir Selvam and Cheow Hick Ting. They decided that the proper punishment was to suspend me from practice for the maximum period of two years because I had shown no remorse for what I did. Especially because, in answer to the question from Assomull whether I was sorry for what I did, my answer being that I was "very proud of what I did"!

The reporter who wrote the report in the Straits Times was Ben Davidson. I believe he no longer works for the Singapore state controlled newspaper the Straits Times. His last sentence was that "Gopalan Nair is now practicing law in California".

While in California, I received a Registrar’s Notice claiming that the taxed costs awarded against me for the costs of the Disciplinary Proceedings was about $150,000.00 (US$ 100,000.00) and that I should forthwith pay this amount.

Incidentally, there was another case, Attorney General of Singapore vs Pallichadath Gopalan Nair for contempt of court about which I will write next time. In this case, again while I was alreaday in California, Laura Lau of the Attorney General’s Chambers wrote to me that I had to pay the costs of the proceedings amounting to $13, 000.00 (US$ 10,000.00).

It would appear that the total amount I was required to pay the Law Society and the Singapore government would appear to be nearly $200,000.00.

To date I have not paid a cent. I refuse to pay. And by the way, I have been to Singapore several times, the latest being this year from Nov 1, 2007 to Nov 13, 2007. They have not taken any steps against me to recover their money.

I wonder why. Or is the reason why they do not go after me is because I am not afraid of them.

Any lawyer reading this blog should perhaps ask the Singapore Law Society about their loss of this huge sum of money, which I have refused to pay.

A short time later after my case, the Attorney General Tan Boon Teck resigned from his government post. It was reported in the press that he was playing the piano.

I wonder where he is now? Still playing the piano?

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914

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