Man acquitted of rape: Subhas was my only hope to prove my innocence
Convicted of rape, he was at wits' end. He wanted to appeal against the judgment but three lawyers had turned him down.
Then Mr Ong Mingwee (above) went to Mr Subhas Anandan, widely regarded as Singapore's top criminal lawyer.
Their first meeting gave him hope. Mr Subhas later agreed to take his case and got the judgment overturned on appeal.
Mr Ong walked out of court a free man, forever indebted to Mr Subhas.
When he found out yesterday that Mr Subhas had died of heart failure at the age of 67, from a customer at his family's minimart in Toa Payoh North, he was shocked and deeply saddened.
He told The New Paper: "My heart is crying."
In a statement, Mr Subhas' family asked to be allowed to grieve their loss in private. His funeral, handled by Hindu Casket, will be held this afternoon at Mandai Crematorium.
Recalling his ordeal after being convicted of rape in April 2011, Mr Ong said he wanted to file an appeal because he was innocent. But his lawyer during the nine-day trialadvised him to "bite the bullet" and accept his sentence of seven years' jail and eight strokes of the cane.
Two other lawyers, with whom he was friends, turned him down for fear of damaging their friendship if they were to lose. There was little chance the conviction would be overturned, they told him.
Mr Ong's mother suggested they approach Mr Subhas.
"He was my only hope. It was the way he carried himself and how he looked at the evidence that I felt hopeful at our first meeting," Mr Ong, 32, said.
Speaking at the minimart which he helps to run, he added: "To me, at that time, it meant a lot (that he was willing to take up my case)."
When Mr Subhas looked at the trial evidence, they had a frank talk.
In 2009, Mr Ong was convicted of rape after a one-night stand with a woman he had met in Zouk. He took her home and they they had sex. She later accused him of raping her while he claimed that it had been consensual.
Mr Ong said: "Subhas told me it looked like there 'should be nothing' and that he could not understand how the situation had turned out this way."
At their initial meetings, Mr Ong said, Mr Subhas was an intimidating presence. But he gradually warmed up, and Mr Ong described their relationship like that of a "caring uncle and nephew".
While preparing for the appeal, never once did the man known as The Basher tell Mr Ong whether or not if the appeal would succeed.
"I suppose he kept me hanging so that I wouldn't think much about it. Somehow, he made me feel very relaxed."
They met every month, where Mr Ong would get updates about what Mr Subhas and his team were doing, and how his appeal was shaping up.
Mr Subhas also visited Mr Ong's flat twice to better understand the spot where the incident had happened.
Mr Ong said: "No matter how serious he could be in court, there was a fun-loving side to him."
Appearing before the judge during the appeal in the High Court, Mr Subhas was "calm, firm and very sharp".
"There was no need for him to be fierce or anything. He was very calm and logical, and he knew what were the points that would stand out," said Mr Ong, who repeatedly said that Mr Subwas stern on the outside but had a very soft heart.
"Despite knowing that I would have problems paying my legal fees, he still took on my case, gave it his 100 per cent and told me I could take my time to come up with the money."
It was previously reported that Mr Ong spent over $70,000 in legal fees when he hired Mr Subhas.
On Nov 30, 2012, Mr Ong was acquitted of rape.
He said: "His death is a great loss to the innocent, those who would need his help to prove their innocence."
The pair kept in touch after Mr Ong's acquittal, and he would occasionally visit Mr Subhas at his office in Battery Road.
Looking wistful for a moment, he said: "You know, he already wasn't well when he took up my case. Yet he still wanted to help me. He was slightly pale, and he wasn't the same as you see in pictures."
Asked about his favourite memory of Mr Subhas, Mr Ong said: "It was just the way he carried himself. He had a lot of confidence and was very reassuring.
"As we were walking out of the High Court after my acquittal, he told me: Be a good boy now."
- Additional reporting by DAVID SUN
NOT SCARED OF 'HOPELESS' CASES
He was dubbed The Basher, Supreme Commander and The People's Hero by his peers in the law fraternity.
The late Subhas Anandan was a criminal lawyer who was both fearless and feared in the courtroom.
Yesterday, those who knew him recounted fond memories of a "pillar of the legal community".
To ex-Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) and Commercial Affairs Department director Glenn Knight, Mr Anandan was a formidable adversary.
He told The New Paper: "I had to tell younger DPPs that you can't take him on on the more difficult cases. 'You'll lose,' I told them. In those days, I always reached a compromise with Subhas in 90 per cent of the cases."
Lawyer Edmond Pereira said Mr Subhas often plunged head first into an unwinnable case, and for free.
"He knew what it was like to be an underdog as he was an underdog himself. He was passionate and not afraid to take on hopeless cases.
"He would always do his best for his client," Mr Pereira said.
Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who is also Foreign Affairs Minister, said that Mr Subhas' attributes should be emulated by aspiring criminal lawyers.
He told TNP in an e-mail: "Younger people can learn this; that integrity, a sense of justice, a concern for the less well-off - these are key attributes of a truly outstanding lawyer; and if they want to be leaders at the Bar, they need these qualities."
Championing the poor was always tied to his upbringing, said Dr Kirpal Singh who attended the University of Singapore with Mr Subhas.
Dr Singh, who teaches English literature at Singapore Management University, said: "Despite his brash outward behaviour, he was compassionate. He was quite indifferent to the rich and powerful because he grew up amid poverty. And he never forgot that."
Mr Subhas, a senior partner at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, took on more than 2,500 cases after he was called to the Bar in 1971.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon described him as a leader of the Criminal Bar.
"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 with senior members of the Bar, which were extremely relevant and productive," he said.
Lawyer Satwant Singh, a former vice-president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, which Mr Subhas had co-founded, said the latter was affectionately known as Supreme Commander during the monthly meetings at his home.
Said Mr Singh: "Before each meeting, we would jokingly ask, 'What would the supreme commander be discussing this month?'
"He behaved like one too, sitting in his chair with his feet on the table (during the meetings)."
- ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF
Former crime reporter remembers Subhas Anandan: 'He was always ready with a laugh & a joke'
I first met Subhas Anandan in 2003 when I was still a rookie reporter.
It was in Court 26, the charge court, where every suspect would be taken to face charges. It's a messy place with hundreds of people buzzing around.
The doors swung open and a heavily-bearded lawyer strolled in.
The policemen in court seemed to stand just a bit more upright as he walked by. I swear that one even bowed to him as if Mr Subhas were the judge.
The female court clerk, whom I had been warned was fierce and unfriendly, broke into a smile upon seeing him.
The court translators greeted him warmly, shaking his hand while sharing some laughs together.
I introduced myself to him afterwards and handed him my name card. Without even looking at it, he shoved the card into his trouser pocket, slapped his hand over my shoulder and asked me why I became a journalist.
I gathered up the nerve to ask him why he became a lawyer.
He laughed and said simply: "Everyone deserves a chance."
His cab came, so he said to call him and set up a lunch meeting soon.
Realising I did not have his number, I asked for his mobile.
He laughed, patted his pockets as if looking for a phone and joked: "My secretary's my mobile phone. Call her."
More than a decade later, Mr Subhas still never carried a mobile phone.
He also never kept my card, I would confirm years later, but he always found a way to contact me when he needed to.
Over the next 10 years, I had many chances to see Mr Subhas in action.
He was never the most eloquent of lawyers, but he argued his cases with lots of passion and plenty of reasoning. He took on cases that had little chance of winning and accepted clients he knew could not pay him.
Most trials here are nowhere as exciting as what you watch on television. But when Mr Subhas is the defence counsel, you can expect some excitement.
That is why court reporters flocked to him whenever they spotted him.
He always had time for reporters, even rookies like myself. His good quotes also made him our darling.
I remember sitting behind the counsel's table in one trial where Mr Subhas had just trapped the witness with some clever questions. He turned to me and couldn't resist flashing a cheeky wink before switching his trial face back on.
Although he looked mighty scary in court, with his piercing eyes, beard and booming voice, Mr Subhas was always ready with a laugh and a joke.
He loved his food and drink, but over the years, with his heart and other health problems, he had to watch what he consumed, switching to Diet Coke to satisfy his sugar thirst.
Mr Subhas was fiercely passionate about legal issues and, over the years, inspired me to write about some - such as the granting of bail, the use of entrapment by law enforcement agencies and interrogation techniques.
He was always so passionate discussing the law that I even seriously considered quitting my job to read law.
He shared his ideas, thoughts and opinions freely and never feared stepping on people's toes.
He also always had time to teach young lawyers and share his experiences. Interns ate at the same table as him and could voice their opinions freely with him.
How he never became a Senior Counsel was always a mystery to me. I asked him about it once, but he shrugged it off.
"No biggie," he said. "Accused people want a lawyer who can help them, not one with titles."
Mr Subhas had no titles.
But he sure had plenty of heart.