Formidable fighter leaves lasting legal legacy

Formidable fighter leaves lasting legal legacy

Echoing an oft-quoted remark by United States General Douglas MacArthur, Mr Subhas Anandan, in his sunset years, once said: "Old lawyers, like old soldiers, never die... we just fade away."

Singapore's best known criminal lawyer has left a lasting legacy. He raised the profile of criminal practice, pioneered an association for his colleagues and defended murderers in some of the most high-profile cases.

From the Chief Justice, Law Minister and Attorney-General to lawyers and former clients, tributes poured in that summed up the man and his achievements.

"He was massive, having been a leader, a lawyer, a writer and one who did a lot of pro bono work," said Senior Counsel Harry Elias, who knew him for more than 40 years.

"This kind of man is hard to find, one in a million, a man of great integrity, a fighter who would speak the truth, even if (it is) not in his client's favour."

Several items bear inclusion in any telling of Mr Subhas' accomplishments.

He formed the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore a decade ago to provide a platform where concerns about criminal procedure, such as access to accused persons, can be aired.

He gave the Criminal Bar here a voice, although his was often the loudest, and clearest. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said yesterday: "He assisted me greatly when I was the attorney-general by patiently explaining some of the issues that were facing the Criminal Bar. These discussions led to a regular series of dialogues... which were extremely relevant and productive.

"He will be greatly missed."

Mr Subhas also made it a point to never shirk a case, or argument, despite the odds. A litany of high-profile capital cases cemented his name and reputation.

This included the case of Took Leng How, who murdered eight- year-old Huang Na; and Anthony Ler, who got a teen to kill his wife. Both Took and Ler were convicted and executed.

In many ways, Mr Subhas defined the model criminal lawyer in recent decades in the same way that the flamboyant David Marshall did in the 1960s.

It may be argued that if Mr Marshall won eight out of 10 cases, then Mr Subhas was just the reverse and lost eight out of 10. But the rules of court were different, the jury system was in place then and Mr Marshall had a field day.

"But both had something in common - they never flinched in holding an accused person was innocent until proven guilty," said lawyer R.S. Wijaya. "Both were fearless and formidable."

Born in Kerala in 1947, Mr Subhas came with his family to Singapore when he was five months old. He studied at Raffles Institution and graduated with a law degree from the University of Singapore in 1970. He earned his pupillage under Mr Chan Sek Keong, who went on to become Singapore's third chief justice.

Lawyers said Mr Subhas' combative style was his trademark, giving as much as he got in courtcraft. His instincts as a fighter made a difference in his personal life and were to give him a year's remission from his illness.

After he was diagnosed with heart and kidney failure in December 2013, doctors told him there was nothing more they could do.

"I decided I am going to give it a fight. It is not for the doctors to decide when I am going or coming, but for the one up there," he told The Straits Times last year.

That added lease of life enabled him to attend a final public hurrah last October - the launch of a scholarship fund in his name for former prisoners.

The Association of Muslim Lawyers hosted the event at the Supreme Court auditorium to honour his pro bono work and his contributions to the legal profession.

Mr Subhas said then: "Today has been a wonderful day. I am surrounded by people whom I respect and people whom I love. I am so happy that if I don't have any tomorrows, it does not matter."

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