Dr Gopalan Raman
There are three qualities that had stood out throughout Raman’s adult life. First he was an honest and upright man – a man of great distinction and character. Secondly he was the friend of the poor and downtrodden – which led him to defend people like Tan Wah Piow, Dr Poh Sao Kai and Said Zahari – and he stood by them through thick and thin whatever their political views. This eventually led to his arrest and detention without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Thirdly he spoke his mind on issues of the day without any fear or favour. He was endowed with a clear and logical mind and a gift to articulate his views in a precise and objective manner in several languages. In fact he was fluent in four languages – Malayalam, Tamil, Malay and English.
As a lawyer Raman excelled in two areas of the law. He was a formidable criminal lawyer having acquired the skills of cross-examination and Court craft by observing the leading lawyers of the Criminal Bar like David Marshall and Francis Seow when he was a Court Interpreter. He was also an expert on Probate Law and Practice and Estate Duty – knowledge that he acquired by self study (when he was required as a condition of his release under the ISA to work at the then Estate Duty Office for two years) in the early years of his practice.
Raman had argued many cases in the Subordinate Courts and the High Court. At least twenty-seven (27) of these cases are reported in the law reports. These cases cover a wide range of subjects from trustees’ remuneration as in Shiraz Abidally Hussein  SGHC 130 to the judicial review of administrative action in Borissik Svatlana v URA  SGHC 154 and breach of directors’ fiduciary duties in Innovation Corporation Pte Ltd  SGHC 121. Although Raman fiercely championed the cause of his clients he was always polite and courteous to the Court – the hallmark of a true advocate.
Raman was also known for his public service. He had served with distinction as President of The Sree Narayana Mission, President of the Malayalee Association, Vice President of the Law Society of Singapore and as a member of the Legal Heritage Committee of the Singapore Law Academy to name a few. Whilst serving on the Bar Council of the Law Society he was conferred the C.C. Tan Award – an award that exemplifies what is the best of the legal profession – honesty, fair play and personal integrity. It is the highest Award that any practicing lawyer can hope to achieve. Raman richly deserved that Award.
Further Raman had an academic bent that is evident in his writings. His contribution to legal learning include Probate Practice and Estate Duty, his Annotation of certain Orders of the Rules of Court, his doctoral Thesis published in 2003 and finally his autobiography “A Quest for Freedom” published in 2018. Raman freely shared his knowledge and expertise particularly with younger members of the Bar. He was a mentor to many of them.
I had known Raman for some 67 years. He was honest to a fault. He never uttered an unkind or rude word about anybody to anybody including those who incarcerated him or interrogated him on end for days during his detention. In short he was a man with an unblemished reputation. In the words of Shakespeare
“The purest treasure mortal time afford
Is spotless reputation” (King Richard II, I,i)
Raman’s ceaseless effort and hard work over the span of some 60 years, the trauma of his incarceration, the conditions of his release, the strain of setting up a law practice against all odds and the stress of Court work took a toll on his health. In his mid seventies he had two open heart surgeries but this did not deter him from work. He carried on bravely until cancer claimed him in 2020.
Raman leaves behind his devoted wife Sarala and his loving daughter Rejini. They nursed him throughout his brief illness. Raman once told me some years ago that it was his wife and daughter that had saved him during the darkest days of his detention.
The Bar has lost one of its finest and outstanding members. As a profession we should celebrate his life and pray for the repose of his soul.
T P B Menon
Wee Swee Teow LLP