|Pro Bono Publico|
A Soldier in the Trenches
Interview with Amolat Singh, Recipient of the Inagural LASCO Award 2011
Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong presenting the inaugural LASCO award to Amolat Singh
His smile lights up the room as Amolat Singh, Managing Partner of Amolat Singh and Partners, genially reminisces on his early years as a criminal lawyer. It is easy to warm up to affable Amolat, the recipient of the inaugural Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences (“LASCO”) award presented by Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong in November of 2010. With grace and charm, Amolat shares with Pro Bono Publico what he has experienced as a LASCO volunteer and why he continues to make time for LASCO cases.
LASCO is a legal assistance scheme run by the Supreme Court for all accused persons facing capital charges in the High Court. On every LASCO trial, there are two volunteer lawyers assigned by the Registrar, a lead counsel and an assisting counsel.
Amolat started volunteering for LASCO trials as an assisting counsel to Subhas Anandan. For Amolat, Subhas has been both friend and mentor. The dynamic duo, touted by the press as “Batman and Robin”, has teamed up on a number of high-profile LASCO cases. In particular, during March 1997, they represented Abdul Nasir who was facing two capital charges for committing robbery with hurt and staging the kidnap of two police officers in 1996. The Nasir trial concluded with a landmark ruling that redefined “life imprisonment” to mean imprisonment for the rest of a convicted person’s life. But the draw of LASCO work for Amolat is not in the media glitz or fraternity recognition. Rather, it is helping the needy and the professional satisfaction of undertaking challenging criminal work.
As an assisting counsel, Amolat often took the lead in drafting trial submissions even in his early career. While the scope of an assisting LASCO counsel remains open-ended, Amolat is of the position that you reap what you have sowed when it comes to legal work. The more effort put in by an assisting counsel during a trial, the greater his experience and insight grows. Eventually, assisting counsel will graduate to lead counsel and assume responsibility for full strategy and positioning of a case.
Monetary gain is secondary to Amolat. He views the honorarium received from LASCO as a token of recognition for his efforts. In a similar light, when it comes to his thoughts on his recent LASCO award, he draws upon a military analogy from his Singapore Armed Forces background. Like the tired soldier in the deep trenches who has been relentlessly fighting for months, when the Commander of the Army personally appears to commend him for his hard work, the soldier’s efforts become ever so much more worth the while.
► Joanna Lee
Pro Bono Services Office
The Law Society of Singapore
Interview with Zachary Tay, Amolat Singh’s Intern
During his internship, Zachary would follow Mr Singh to Court and observe the Court proceedings. Zachary has just completed his National Service and will pursue a degree in law at the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law come August 2011.
1. What was your first impression of Amolat?
Mr Singh struck me as a very affable and approachable person. Simple acts like greeting fellow lawyers, striking up small talk with the security guards and cleaning uncles and aunties portrayed him as someone who could easily connect with people regardless of their background.
2. What did you learn from your experience working with Mr Singh?
I think the most significant lesson in being a lawyer that I took from this experience is that one should always strive to make correspondence with your opponent as amicable as possible, of course unless the situation dictates otherwise. As a lawyer, especially in litigation, you tend to meet the same people throughout your career. You never know when you might need someone’s help or have to work with, maybe against, lawyers whom you’ve come across. It’s always better to help each other than to make life difficult for each other.
One other lesson that struck me was the importance of being able to explain the law to clients or people seeking legal advice. Often, those who require such assistance are less educated and have difficulties grasping the technicalities and procedures of the law. To be able to construct advice in an easier way for them to understand is equivalent to empowering them and would go a long way in making a difference to their lives.
3. What kind of career lawyer would you like to be?
Litigation is definitely the most interesting aspect of law I’ve come in contact with. Most lawyers I’ve spoken to also agree. However, my personality and style of working might seem more suited to corporate work. Nevertheless, I still have four years of law studies to shape my choices.
4. What are your views on LASCO?
LASCO is essential because of a paramount need to ensure people have a chance to prove their innocence, rather than face a possibility of incurring a grave injustice by sending an innocent person to the gallows.
5. Do you think law students and young lawyers today are more inclined to do pro bono work as compared to more senior lawyers like Mr Amolat Singh?
There definitely seems to be a greater emphasis and encouragement for all lawyers to do pro bono work in recent years. I wouldn’t necessarily say that law students and young lawyers are more inclined to do so because the years of contribution made by the senior lawyers cannot be disregarded. However, I do see many of the younger generation who are keen on pro bono work and the trend might have been started in part due to the increased efforts of universities to get students to do pro bono work. In general, the concept of pro bono appears to be catching on fast among the younger generation as a whole, not just the legal fraternity.