Singapore lost one of its most prominent criminal lawyers on 7 January 2015. Mr. Subhas Anandan, Senior Partner of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing died of heart failure at the age of 67. In more than three decades, “Subhas” as he was known, defended some of Singapore’s most notorious criminals like Antony Ler, the man who paid teenagers to kill his wife and Took Leng How, a retarded man who was accused of killing the China-born toddler Hwang Na back in 2004. Subhas was known as a man who would happily defend some of the “worst” criminals free of charge (back when it wasn’t common practice for lawyers to do pro-bono work).
The tributes are pouring in and one of the most common points about the man was that he was someone who stood up for people. The act of taking on scum bags and defending them in a court of law was a reminder that justice is only done when even the scum bags have the chance to present a case in court and they get convicted on evidence rather than political convenience or popular opinion.
All these things about Subhas are true. However, to me, Subhas was more than just an advocate for scum bags. He was an important figure in my childhood, who would remain in the shadows of the life is lived like some mysterious guardian spirit.
Subhas was my mother’s university mate and they remained good friends for over four decades. Her friendship was such that when I first moved back to Singapore for National Service, her first words to be were, “If you’re in any trouble – give Uncle Subhas a call – he’ll defend you. He won’t do it for the money – he’ll do it because you’re my son.”
Well, thankfully, I never had to call on “Uncle Subhas” to get me out of a sticky situation. The closest I ever got was needing legal advice when I was planning to get out of a very troubled marriage to Gina. Uncle Subhas wasn’t a divorce lawyer but he got me over an hour with two of his colleagues from Harry Elias Partnership free of charge (An hour with a junior associate with a big law firm is usually enough to bankrupt most people). That very crucial meeting set me on the path of getting out of a relationship that would have been disastrous.
Many years later, I’d run into Uncle Subhas at MediaCorp studio. He was the legal advisor on a show that was talking about domestic violence, while I was one of the interview subjects. Half way through, he actually said,”A man who hits a woman is a coward.”
This was him at his vintage best. While Uncle Subhas was a great lawyer, he was also a man of the people and he stuck to his principles, even when it was worse for him (he served a prison term). The law for him was about seeing that some form of justice was done and yet at the end of the day he never became blinded by his beliefs. I guess you could say that he was an idealist and a realist at the same time.
With the exception of a few encounters of the street, I never saw Uncle Subhas again. Mum would take pains to visit him and his family whenever she was in town but somehow, I never visited. As such, I can’t claim to really to have known the man in his final years.
However, he was an important character in my life. He was Mum’s divorce lawyer, even though he didn’t really believe in divorce. Yet, the way my parent’s ended their marriage was perhaps a blessing for me in that they did it with minimal harm to me and I think he had an influence in that respect.
I also think of the role he played in mine. I think the two instances I’ve had with him, was his way of showing me that there is a right way of doing things. By some fluke, Gina and I ended it legally and cleanly and I think he had a role to play in that.
I can’t say I’ll mourn him the way my Mum will. However, I can say that I’ll miss him. Although, I never really saw much of him other than what I got to see on TV or through reading his book or hearing my Mum talk about him, he was a presence that made a difference to me.
I wish I had made a more prominent effort to keep in touch when I first moved back to Singapore. The little I got of him, helped me at crucial junctures in my life. I wish I had the chance to know him better. He was the man who believed in justice in the law. His life touched so many and it was my privilege that my Mum insisted I call “Uncle.”