Subhas Anandan goes from behind bars to being called to the bar in defense of those who find their innocence on the line.
Contributed By Nathan Calvert
For most people, the thought of defending a murderer or rapist is impossible to comprehend. For seasoned criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan, it’s all in a day’s work. As one of Singapore’s top criminal lawyers, Anandan has handled over 1,500 cases throughout his 40-year career. He has represented a number of notorious clients in high-profile cases, including the “Kallang body parts murderer” Leong Siew Chor and “One-eyed dragon” Tan Chor Jin.
Nicknamed “the basher” within the legal community, Anandan is famous for his stinging attacks in the courtroom. However, his softer side emerged when he addressed the crowd of NUS students and alumni gathered at the monthly U@live forum organized by the National University of Singapore Office of Alumni Relations on Sep. 28. Witty and humorous, Anandan challenged the assumptions and mindsets of the audience.
Besides being a senior partner at RHT Law Advocates and Solicitors, Anandan is the current president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers in Singapore. He was awarded the Legal Eagle Award in 2001 by the Law Society of Singapore. Whilst he is widely recognized as one of Singapore’s top criminal lawyers, Anandan never intended to make a career out of defending people accused of committing crimes. “I became a criminal lawyer by accident. When I first started practice I had a lot of clients who came from my kampong, my neighborhood, which was quite rough. They were all involved in criminal matters,” he recalls. Word of his prowess in the courtroom spread quickly, and more and more people came to Anandan asking him to represent them.
Born in India, Anandan’s family migrated to Singapore when he was just five months old. Growing up in a poor family with four other siblings, Anandan in turn developed empathy for those less well-off than himself. “I came from a neighborhood which was tough. We were poor … thus I’ve got this special license for those who are less fortunate than me. I try to help them whenever I can.”
Anandan gives back to the community in many ways. His law firm gives pro bono services in the community court and the bail court to those who are unable to afford a lawyer. He is often approached by ex-convicts, and always tries to help them to start a new life, even if it is just by making a few phone calls to help them get a job.
However, not everyone shares the same level of compassion for ex-convicts. Asked about Singaporeans’ views of those who have been imprisoned, Anandan shared, “In my experience the people in Singapore are not often forgiving. Some hold the fact that you have been convicted or that you have been in jail against you. It’s a mindset that we have to change.”
Although grateful for the success of The Yellow Ribbon Programme, Anandan believes that more can be done for those who want to turn their lives around. “Just because you have been convicted once, it does not make you a bad guy forever. There could be so many reasons why you committed that offense. It’s sad when people condemn you as totally hopeless just because of one wrongdoing.” A firm believer in giving people a second chance, Anandan knows many ex-convicts who have turned their lives around. He puts their successful rehabilitation into society down to the fact that people were willing to give them a second chance. While some criminals will return to a life of crime, Anandan believes that society needs to take a certain level of risk. “We should all make a concerted effort to help these people. I for one will never say no to any of them who approach me for help.”
Anandan’s compassion comes not only from having grown up in relative poverty, but also because he himself has spent time in prison. Arrested on suspicion of being involved in a secret society, Anandan was jailed without trial in 1976. When asked about his time in prison by Viswa Sadasivan, forum moderator and chairman of the U@live organizing committee, Anandan claimed that he did no wrong. “I knew that when I was detained, it was [because of] fabricated evidence … we managed to break every allegation that was made against me. Even though my detention order was for one year I was released before the one year was up.” Anandan agrees that his time in prison has helped to further increase his empathy for others accused of crime. “I feel sorry for them. I understand their plight better and I try my best to help them.
DON’T JUDGE TOO QUICKLY
While the law states that a person is innocent until proven guilty, people tend to base their judgments on what is reported in the media. Anandan shared that what one sees and reads and what actually happened are two different things. When prompted by Sadasivan to divulge the one message he would share with Singaporeans when it comes to people accused of criminal offenses, his reply was clear—“Do not judge him until the trial is over. Don’t worry about what the papers say, what people say, what the Director of Public Prosecutions says. Wait until the trial is over, and then judge him.”
Due to Anandan’s line of work, he is often criticized by the media. Despite the negative publicity he often receives, including the occasional death threat, Anandan has no plans to quit the business. “I have no regrets. I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” he shares. When presented with the opportunity to leave a lasting piece of wisdom with the crowd, Anandan summed up the main message of his speech, interview and question and answer session with these words: “Every individual counts in society.”