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The Singapore Law Gazette

Dr Gopalan Raman

Dr Raman

Dr Raman in his thirties

Dr Gopalan Raman was born in 1938 in Chendoroh, North Perak. He came from a rather poor family. In 1948 his family moved to Singapore which changed his life. After completing his primary education he was accepted into Raffles Institution in 1953 – then the premier school in Singapore. At Raffles, Raman excelled in everything he did. He was an excellent student, a fine sportsman (he represented the School in Football and Rugby) and a role model to his fellow students. After completing his Senior Cambridge Certificate (where he attained a Grade 1) in 1956 he was compelled by circumstances to work as a Court Interpreter not only to supplement the family income but because he did not have the financial means to enrol at the Law Faculty of the then University of Malaya in Singapore. Whilst working as a Court Interpreter he completed his “A” level examinations and enrolled for an external law degree at London University. He completed his law degree at London University and qualified as a barrister in 1968. He was admitted as an Advocate and Solicitor of the Singapore Court of Singapore on the 13th day of August 1969 and commenced practice soon thereafter under the name of G. Raman & Partners.

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.

Receiving his PhD

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 [2007] SGHC 130 to the judicial review of administrative action in Borissik Svatlana v URA [2007] SGHC 154 and breach of directors’ fiduciary duties in Innovation Corporation Pte Ltd [2019] 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.

At the launch of his book “A Quest for Freedom” in 2018

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.

At his office in Straits Trading Building

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

Wee Swee Teow LLP