My own family scolds me for the cases I take
Lawyer Subhas Anandan was with his friends in a private room at an expensive nightclub when a hostess walked in. Her smile faded when she recognised him as the lawyer in the Kallang body parts case. -TNP
By Joycelyn Wong
HE was with his friends in a private room at an expensive nightclub when a hostess walked in.
The murder trial was ongoing at that time and, like the victim Liu Hong Mei, the hostess was a Chinese national.
She asked Mr Subhas Anandan: How can you defend someone who brutally chopped up another person?
His reply was that someone had to do the job and it just happened to be him.
Mr Subhas, 60, said: 'She was so disgusted that I could represent a man who had done those things. She left the room in a huff and refused to entertain us.
'Before she left, I told her that it can be dangerous when a woman has an affair. She could be killed by either the husband or the wife.'
Last year, his client, Leong Siew Chor, was hanged for the murder of Miss Liu.
Mr Subhas' life story and some of his high-profile cases are captured in his first book, The Best I Could.
He said it took more than a year to finish it because he hardly found the time to work on it.
In his career spanning almost four decades, he has acted for some of the worst criminals here, such as child killers, rapists and kidnappers.
And it is not just strangers who have wagged a finger at him for representing these offenders.
He pointed out that his biggest critic is his elder sister, a medical worker.
She would admonish him: You know what that guy did? How could you take up this case?
Mr Subhas said: 'If I get the accused's charge reduced, she would scold me even more.'
Even his only child, now aged 18, had some harsh words for him.
They were watching the TV docu-drama Crime Watch years ago when Mr Subhas told him, 'Hey, that's Papa's case'.
'He turned to me and asked me why I don't have any good clients,' Mr Subhas recalled.
'So when it happens even in my own house, I have to accept that there will be others out there criticising me, too. But no, it doesn't bother me.'
He admitted that some of the crimes committed by his clients have sickened him. But he said his job was not to judge what they did.
'That is left to the court. Most of the time, I don't create a defence for them,' he said.
'They plead guilty because they did it. But whatever it is, they still deserve a lawyer to help them with the court process.'
Mr Subhas finds it hard to say no, when mothers go to him for help, like in the cases of Anthony Ler, who was hanged in 2002 for hiring a teenager to kill his wife, and Took Leng How, who was hanged in 2006 for killing an 8-year-old girl.
On such occasions, he would be reminded of his late mother and how she would have felt if something similar had happened to him or his siblings.
Mr Subhas said: 'When someone commits a crime, his family suffers too - sometimes, even more so than the accused.
'Their mother is the one who comes to me most of the time, because a mother's love for her child knows no bounds.
'They kneel down and hug my legs and they can't stop crying. How can I say no?'
He says it is hard to pin down what exactly compels him to take on a case.
Why he does it
Sometimes, it is the chemistry he has with the accused. Most times, it is simply because the accused needs help.
Just like in the case of Wu Yun Yun, 25, the wife of opposition party member Tan Lead Shake, 39. She had been charged with murdering Mr Tan's brother.
Mr Subhas said he received a call from a China embassy official, who asked if he would represent her even though her family could not afford it.
'I told him that in the past, I had defended some clients who had killed his countrymen,' Mr Subhas said.
'So for a change, I will represent one of his citizens.'
The lawyer said that sometimes, all he gets is a hug from the accused and their family.
'But I know that it came from the heart. And to me, that is more fulfilling than having a grumpy client saying, 'Here, take your cheque',' Mr Subhas said.
Still, there have been instances in which they insisted on paying him in full even though they were poor.
He recalled a case some years ago, when a client's mother scraped together money to pay his legal fees.
Mr Subhas knew the family was not well-off and that she must have borrowed it from somewhere. So he lied to her that he had overestimated his fees and said he was returning her a few thousand dollars.
But the woman felt he was doing so because he did not think there was any hope for her son.
'I had to take out the six pages of documents I had prepared for the case to show her how thin the stack was,' he said.
'I said, 'See, it's really not much work' before she was finally convinced.'
Mr Subhas managed to get the charge reduced from murder to manslaughter and the grateful mother visited him in his office when the case ended.
'She pushed a hongbao into my hands and said I had to accept it,' he said.
'When I opened it, I saw that it contained exactly the amount that I had earlier returned her.'
He added with a laugh: 'I kept the money since it was for me, no need to hand over to my firm.'
Some grateful clients on death row, like Ler, have even offered him their kidneys. Mr Subhas had a kidney removed in 2001 due to cancer.
He has had three heart attacks and pops 16 different types of medicine - which add up to more than 30pills - daily.
He said: 'There have been three or four of them who wanted to give me their organs. It's a nice gesture but even if the law had allowed it, I wouldn't have accepted.
'Somehow, it just feels wrong. I don't want people to get the impression that I acted for them because I wanted their organs.'
Many of his clients have paid for their crimes with their lives. But he said he does not shed a tear for them.
Neither does he go to their funerals to say a final goodbye.
'It can become emotional and the family might end up crying. I don't want to go through all that,' he said.
'Why carry extra emotional luggage? In a way, it's also to show that my relationship with them is purely professional. Besides, I know I've already done what I could for them.'
This article was first published in The New Paper on Dec 10, 2008.
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