Top lawyer Hri Kumar named Deputy Attorney-General

Top lawyer Hri Kumar named Deputy Attorney-General
Lawyer, Hri Kumar, Justice Steven Chong Horng Siong ,Mr Tan Siong Thye, Judicial Commissioner Kannan Ramesh. Photos: Drew & Napier, PMO Office
Published: 4:16 PM, February 16, 2017
Updated: 2:12 PM, February 17, 2017

SINGAPORE — Mr Hri Kumar Nair, a director at Big Four law firm Drew & Napier, and former Member of Parliament (MP) has been appointed Deputy Attorney-General (A-G), marking the first time an ex-lawmaker will take on the State’s prosecutorial function.

From March 1, Mr Nair will replace Mr Tan Siong Thye, who will become a High Court judge, announced the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Thursday (Feb 16). Two other appointments to the judiciary were also announced — Justice Steven Chong to the appellate court and Judicial Commissioner Kannan Ramesh to the Supreme Court Bench.

Appointed Senior Counsel in 2008, Mr Nair, 50, has more than 25 years of experience as a lawyer, acting in a wide range of litigation and arbitration matters. He became MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC in 2006. He served two terms before quitting politics just before the 2015 General Election, saying his wife’s diagnosis of lymphoma in 2012 made him relook his priorities. His three-year appointment comes just three months after the PMO announced a new A-G and a second Deputy A-G.

Mr Lucien Wong, 63, who was chairman and senior partner of Allen & Gledhill, took over from Mr V K Rajah on Jan 14 for a three-year term. Concurrently, Mr Lionel Yee, who was Solicitor-General, was appointed Deputy A-G, alongside Mr Tan.

Mr Wong said the A-G’s Chambers (AGC) will be “significantly strengthened” as Mr Nair brings along legal experience across multiple legal disciplines and is recognised as one of Singapore’s top lawyers.

Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran called him “incisive” and “fair-minded”, while in an internal email to Drew & Napier employees, the firm’s CEO Davinder Singh praised Mr Nair’s “rare intellect” and consummate advocacy”.

He added: “I have no doubt that this is just the beginning. Yet higher office will beckon. And rightly so.”

Mr Nair could not be reached for comment.

On his appointment, lawyers and legal academics said concerns of partisanship are legitimate, but not significant. Mr Nair would have to refrain from dealing directly with any matter on which he had taken a position earlier, whether as an MP or a lawyer, said Assistant Professor Jack Lee from Singapore Management University.

“It’s probably not very different from someone being appointed a judge after having served in the AGC ... They would avoid hearing any cases that originate from the time when he or she was with the AGC,” he said.

Agreeing, criminal lawyer Sunil Sudheesan, who is also president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, said: “I do not see any significant concern there, as he would recuse himself from the decision-making process on issues he was previously involved in.”

But lawyer Sylvia Lim, who is also chairman of the opposition Workers’ Party, said the “appointment of a former PAP MP to such a post is not ideal”.

She added: “It is critical that persons entrusted with vast prosecutorial discretion act in the public interest, and not for partisan political gain … Whether my concerns prove to be founded or otherwise — remains to be seen”.

Among the issues Mr Nair spoke strongly about during his tenure as an MP was abolishing the Primary School Leaving Examination. In 2015, he also crossed swords with the Workers’ Party MPs on the accounting lapses by the then-Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council.

Stressed that the AGC makes decisions on “legal grounds”, SMU law professor Eugene Tan said: “It would not be to its benefit for a decision to be driven by political considerations rather than the law and legal considerations. The courts would have none of that.”

With the new judicial appointments, the Supreme Court will have a total of 18 Judges (including five Judges of Appeal and the Chief Justice), eight Judicial Commissioners, five Senior Judges and 12 International Judges.

Assoc Prof Tan lauded the move to expand and diversify the highest court of the land.

“We now have a very diverse Court of Appeal, with judges experienced in issues of criminal, civil, and public law. This is in line with the range of issues the apex court deals with and Singapore’s aspiration to become a regional legal hub,” he said.