By Terry Xu
The Court of Appeal has clarified that there is no legal requirement that a person be granted access to legal counsel within 48 hours and the access can be denied by the police up to almost 3 weeks.
On Wednesday, the three judge Court of Appeal led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon dismissed James Raj’s application and said the issue had already been decided in a 1994 case.
“This is settled law and we do not see that there is any controversy,” said the Chief Justice
The criminal motion was filed by Mr M Ravi on behalf of Mr James Raj to seek a declaration that under Article 9(3) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (“Constitution”) that there is an immediate right to counsel upon the request of a person remanded for investigations and for James Raj to be granted immediate access to legal counsel.
It was first heard by Justice Choo Han Teck on 15 November 2013 which he later dismissed the application on 14 Jan 2014, saying that he was bound by the 1994 case of drug trafficker Jasbir Singh.
James Raj was arrested in Kuala Lumpur by the Malaysian police on 4th November 2013 as the alleged “Messiah” hacker responsible for the defacement of the Ang Mo Kio Town Council website.
After his arrest back to Singapore, Mr Ravi requested to be granted access to him on 11 November 2013 but the request was denied. Access to legal counsel was again denied when he was charged in court on 12 November 2013. James Raj was eventually allowed access to his lawyer for a short while after a hearing on 3rd Dec 2013.
Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, co-counsel with Mr Ravi argued that the binding case in the judgement of Jasbir Singh had taken into consideration that legal access for the suspect should not affect the course of investigations and asked how would access to legal counsel hinder the police investigations in anyway. He further pointed out that a suspect would have to charged in court within 48 hours of the arrest, and no access to legal counsel would surely present a disadvantage for the individual who has to face the court without knowing his/her legal rights.
Deputy Public Prosecuter G.Kannan, conceded on his point about the application by James Raj of being moot as the applicant had already been denied legal access for more than 48 hrs. He then went on to argue that a time limit cannot be imposed because “reasonable time” varies from case to case.
Mr Ravi in response to the verdict by the Court of Appeal said,
“We have to continue to fight for our constitutional rights and right to access to a lawyer within 48 hours is a very basic right which had been taken away from us . It is even more serious when we don’t even have the right of silence which was abolished in 1976. This means accused statements can be taken without access to counsel”
He added that one positive outcome of the case is that from now on, the prosecution would need to prove to the court’s satisfaction on reasons to deny further access to legal counsel.
James Raj is expected to appear in a district court again in two weeks’ time.
Read more on the application here – Right to counsel – lawyer M Ravi seeks court’s declaration on constitutional rights