K. S. Rajah

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K. S. Rajah
S.C., P.B.M.
Portrait of a middle-aged Indian man with grey hair wearing spectacles and a suit and tie.
Judicial Commissioner
In office
15 May 1991 – 2 March 1995
Personal details
Born Kasinather Saunthararajah
3 March 1930
Perai, Penang, Straits Settlements
Died 17 June 2010(2010-06-17) (aged 80)
Singapore
Nationality Singaporean
Alma mater University of Singapore (LL.B. (Hons.), 1963)
Profession Lawyer
Religion Hindu
Awards P.B.M. (2002); C.C. Tan Award (2008)

Kasinather Saunthararajah S.C., P.B.M. (3 March 1930 – 17 June 2010),[1] known professionally as K. S. Rajah, was a Senior Counsel and former Judicial Commissioner of the Supreme Court of Singapore. Born in Penang, he came to Singapore in 1950 and worked as a teacher before embarking on part-time law studies at what was later known as the University of Singapore, graduating in 1963 with a Bachelor of Laws with honours (LL.B. (Hons.)). He then spent the next 22 years with the Singapore Legal Service, eventually heading the civil and criminal divisions of the Attorney-General's Chambers and also serving as Director of the Singapore Legal Aid Bureau and head of the Official Assignee and Public Trustee's Office. In 1985 he retired from the Legal Service and went into private practice, establishing the firm of B. Rao & K. S. Rajah.

In 1991, Rajah was appointed a Judicial Commissioner of the Supreme Court of Singapore. His time on the Bench was marked by a number of significant family law cases, including one in 1991 in which he held that since the gender of a transsexual person was to be determined according to biological criteria, sex reassignment surgery did not alter a person's gender. Thus, a marriage between an individual who had undergone a female-to-male sex change operation and a woman was void, being a marriage between two persons of the same gender. The decision prompted Parliament to amend the Women's Charter in 1996 to permit transsexual people to marry in the capacity of their new gender.

Rajah retired as a judge in 1995 and joined Harry Elias & Partners (now Harry Elias Partnership LLP) as a consultant. He also became the first President of the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents in 1996. The following year, he was appointed Senior Counsel in the first group of lawyers to be conferred this status. A member of the Singapore Mediation Centre and the Singapore International Arbitration Centre, he was active as a mediator and arbitrator. A frequent contributor to the Malayan Law Journal and the Singapore Law Gazette, particularly on criminal law and constitutional matters, a number of his legal articles provoked controversy.

Rajah was the Chairman of the Sri Aurobindo Society Singapore, the Secretary and later the President of the Hindu Centre, and the Vice-President of the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association. He also served with the Hindu Endowments Board and the Society for the Physically Disabled. He was conferred the Pingat Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Medal) at the National Day Awards in August 2002, and in October 2008 received the C.C. Tan Award, which recognizes lawyers who display the highest ideals of the profession, from the Law Society of Singapore.

Early years, education and career[edit]

The eldest of 13 children of a Sri Lankan couple, K. S. Rajah was born in Perai,[2] Province Wellesley (now Seberang Perai), Penang, in what was then the Straits Settlements (now Malaysia) on 3 March 1930.[3] His father was a clerk, and as the family was not well off he often could not afford books and had to borrow them and copy out texts by hand.[4] He was a pupil of the Bukit Mertajam High School.[5] Still a student during the Japanese Occupation, to contribute towards his family's finances he worked as a mess boy at a Japanese officers' mess and later as a translator for the Japanese authorities.[4]

Rajah left school at the age of 16 years. His first job was as a wireless operator on shore for the Penang port authority, using Morse code to communicate with vessels at sea.[3][4] Coming to Singapore in 1950, he started working as a teacher at Sembawang Primary School,[2][4] and was sent for further training in the United Kingdom in 1953 on a scholarship from the Ministry of Education.[6] On his return, he lectured at the Teachers' Training College.[2] He became a Singapore citizen in 1958.[3] In 1959 he joined the pioneer batch of law undergraduates[4] at the University of Malaya in Singapore to study law part-time;[2] in December the same year he married his wife Gnanambigai.[4] The university became known as the University of Singapore in 1962, and Rajah graduated from it with a Bachelor of Laws with honours (LL.B. (Hons.)) the following year.[7]

Legal career[edit]

Singapore Legal Service[edit]

Rajah joined the Singapore Legal Service in 1963, becoming a deputy public prosecutor and, later, senior state counsel with the Attorney-General's Chambers.[6] He was admitted to the Bar on 18 May 1966.[8][9] He handled a number of prominent criminal matters, including the Pulau Senang[10] and Sunny Ang murder trials;[11] and the Gold Bars case, in which a Hong Kong seaman was found to have tried to unlawfully import 165 gold bars and 134 gold coins worth S$86,076.70 without a permit.[12] In September 1967 he led the prosecution of 262 members of the Barisan Sosialis political party (dissolved in 1988) for unlawful assembly and disturbing the peace, Singapore's largest criminal trial.[7][13] He eventually led the Chambers' civil and criminal sections[6][9][14] until 2 August 1972, when he was appointed to head the Official Assignee and Public Trustee's Office.[15] He was also the longest-serving Director of the Singapore Legal Aid Bureau.[7][16] In 1985, he retired from the Legal Service and went into private practice, establishing the firm of B. Rao & K. S. Rajah.[6][9]

Judicial Commissioner[edit]

A building with a facade of columns, a dome and a row of palm trees in front, illuminated at night
The Old Supreme Court Building, where K. S. Rajah served as a Judicial Commissioner between 1991 and 1995, photographed in May 2009

Between 15 May 1991 and 2 March 1995, Rajah served as a Judicial Commissioner of the Supreme Court of Singapore.[3][6][9] During his time on the Bench, he decided a number of significant family law cases. In Lim Ying v. Hock Kian Ming Eric,[17] he held that the gender of a transsexual person was to be determined according to biological criteria, which meant that sex reassignment surgery did not alter a person's gender. Thus, a marriage between an individual who had undergone female-to-male sex reassignment surgery and a woman was void, being a marriage between two persons of the same gender.[18] The decision prompted Parliament to amend the Women's Charter[19] to permit transsexual people to marry in the capacity of their new gender.[20] In 1992, Rajah J.C. annulled the marriage of a 21-year-old woman whose family had forced her into an arranged marriage. This was believed to have been the first judicial decision of its kind in Singapore.[21] Two years later, in another landmark case, he applied to a house-husband the principle that a divorced woman who has not contributed financially towards the acquisition of matrimonial assets is nonetheless entitled to a substantial share of them in view of her indirect contributions in the form of paying towards the household expenses or caring for the family.[22]

Return to private practice[edit]

Following his retirement as a judge, Rajah joined the law firm Harry Elias & Partners (now known as Harry Elias Partnership LLP) as a consultant.[9] He also became the first President of the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents, established in 1996 to entitle parents at least 60 years old and unable to maintain themselves adequately to apply for their children to be ordered to pay maintenance to them.[23] In addition, he served as Chairman of the Law Society of Singapore's Committee on Guidance for the Legal Profession on Anti-Money Laundering.[14] In 1997, Rajah was appointed Senior Counsel in the first group of lawyers to be conferred this status.[24] He was subsequently appointed a member of the Singapore Mediation Centre in 1998, and of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre in 2003. He acted as sole arbitrator and as chairman of arbitral tribunals in domestic and international arbitrations, in particular arbitrations taking place in Bangladesh and India.[4] He was also a referee of the Ministry of Manpower's Industrial Arbitration Court.[14]

Rajah was an active contributor of legal articles to the Malayan Law Journal and the Singapore Law Gazette.[14] An article in the August 2003 issue of the Law Gazette entitled "The Unconstitutional Punishment",[25] which argued that the mandatory death penalty in Singapore was contrary to the Constitution of Singapore, was obliquely criticized by the Chief Justice Yong Pung How. Rajah, appearing before Yong C.J. in an appeal, submitted that a magistrate should have allowed his client to compound her offence of abusing her maid, arguing that "[t]he idea of composition is international". The Chief Justice said that Rajah, a person of "tremendous experience and wide learning", had stated in one of his "wonderful articles" that the death penalty was unconstitutional due to international law. However, he remarked: "I am not concerned with international law. I am a poor humble servant of the law in Singapore. Little island."[26] On 22 March 2005, Rajah delivered a speech on the subject of his article at a LAWASIA conference in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.[27] Another Law Gazette article published in January 2006 which argued that the Court of Appeal's conviction of two men accused of murder who had been acquitted by the High Court violated the constitutional protection against double jeopardy[28] was said by the Ministry of Law to be "legally flawed".[29]

In his last case in 2008, he represented certain minority owners of flats in the Horizon Towers condominium before the High Court in their bid to block the collective sale of the housing development supported by a majority of flat owners.[30] He argued, among other things, that the right to acquire, hold and dispose of property was enshrined in the Constitution, but failed to convince the judge.[31] Although the minority owners were unsuccessful at trial, the judgment was later reversed by the Court of Appeal.[32]

Active in volunteer work, Rajah was the Chairman of the Sri Aurobindo Society Singapore[33] the Secretary and later the President of the Hindu Centre,[34] and the Vice-President of the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association. He also served with the Hindu Endowments Board, Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Temple, Mount Alvernia Hospital and Medical Centre and the Society for the Physically Disabled.[4][7]

Later years[edit]

Rajah died in hospital on 17 June 2010 at the age of 80 years, having suffered from angiosarcoma,[4] a rare cancer of the lining of the blood vessels, of the scalp for a year.[7] He was survived by his wife Gnanambigai Rajah; his sons Surenthiraraj (known as Suressh; as of June 2010 he was Head of Aviation and Shipping and a civil and commercial litigation partner at Harry Elias Partnership)[35] and Yogenthiran, and daughters Jothie and Vaani; seven grandchildren; and 11 of his siblings.[36]

Awards and honours[edit]

Rajah was conferred the Pingat Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Medal) at the National Day Awards in August 2002.[37] In October 2008 he received the C.C. Tan Award, which recognizes lawyers who display the highest ideals of the profession, from the Law Society for "his personal integrity, honesty and outstanding contributions to the legal profession".[7][38]

Selected works[edit]

Articles and book chapters[edit]

Books[edit]

  • Legal Aid: The Legal Aid in Singapore [paper delivered at the Law Association for Asia and the Western Pacific, 3rd Conference, Jakarta, 16–19 July 1973], Jakarta: Conference Organizing Committee?, 1973, OCLC 22672018 .
  • Drug Problems in Adolescents [SANA occasional papers; 3], Singapore: Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association, 1979, OCLC 226024961 .

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ K. S. Rajah's personal name was Saunthararajah; Kasinather was his father's personal name.
  2. ^ a b c d Ben Nadarajan (9 April 2006), "A lawyer who won't shut up", The Straits Times .
  3. ^ a b c d "K. S. Rajah retires from the Bench", The Straits Times, 3 March 1995 .
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i S. Suressh (September 2010), "K S Rajah", Singapore Law Gazette: 45–46, archived from the original on 3 January 2011 .
  5. ^ "Old boys form association in Singapore", The Straits Times, 26 June 1966: 9 .
  6. ^ a b c d e "K. S. Rajah appointed as Supreme Court judicial commissioner", The Straits Times, 14 May 1991 .
  7. ^ a b c d e f K.C. Vijayan (18 June 2010), "Late lawyer 'flew the flag for underdogs': K. S. Rajah worked on many landmark cases in 40-year career and was lauded for his integrity", The Straits Times (reproduced on the Singapore Law Watch website): A24, archived from the original on 19 June 2010 .
  8. ^ 2005 Election – 28 Oct 05 (Senior Category): List of practitioners that voted (PDF), Law Society of Singapore, 28 October 2005, archived from the original on 10 July 2010, retrieved 10 July 2010 .
  9. ^ a b c d e Ramesh Divyanathan (2 March 1995), "K S Rajah leaves Bench, joins Harry Elias & Partners", Business Times (Singapore) .
  10. ^ Tan Kheng Ann v. Public Prosecutor [1965] 2 M.L.J. [Malayan Law Journal] 108, Federal Court of Malaysia.
  11. ^ Ang Sunny v. Public Prosecutor [1965–1967] S.L.R.(R) [Singapore Law Reports (Reissue)] 123, Federal Court.
  12. ^ "$86,000 gold in cabin, court told", The Straits Times, 28 September 1968: 4 . The offender's conviction was upheld by the High Court in Yau Tin Kwong v. Public Prosecutor [1968–1970] S.L.R.(R) 586, although his sentence was reduced.
  13. ^ "Barisan trial: No politics, counsel is told", The Straits Times, 18 November 1967: 7 ; "S'pore's big trial is on again – for one hour", The Straits Times, 26 October 1967: 5 .
  14. ^ a b c d K S Rajah – Consultant, Harry Elias Partnership, archived from the original on 18 June 2010, retrieved 18 June 2010 .
  15. ^ "The first woman Official Assignee resigns", The Straits Times, 31 July 1972: 10, Singapore's first woman Official Assignee, Mrs. Quek Bee See ..., has resigned. ... Tomorrow will be her last day in office. Her successor, it is understood, is senior State counsel Mr. K. S. Rajah. 
  16. ^ Exactly when Rajah became the Director of the Legal Aid Bureau is not currently known. However, he was in this post by 12 December 1972: see "Rajah to lead fire evidence", The Straits Times, 12 December 1972: 15, The Director of Legal Aid, Mr. K. S. Rajah, will lead the evidence at the inquiry into the Robinson's department store fire which claimed nine lives on Nov. 21. .
  17. ^ [1991] 2 S.L.R.(R) 525, High Court. For commentary, see Tan Cheng Han (1991), "Transsexuals and the Law of Marriage in Singapore: Lim Ying v. Hock Kian Ming Eric", Singapore Journal of Legal Studies: 509–516 ; Kweh Soon Han; Lee Juet Jin (1992), "Transsexuals and Sex Determination", Singapore Academy of Law Journal 4: 86–115 ; Leong Wai Kum (1993), "Recent Developments in the Law of Marriage and Divorce", Singapore Academy of Law Journal 5: 290–308 at 292–297 . See also Serene Lim (14 June 1991), "High Court grants an annulment to babysitter in sex-change marriage", The Straits Times .
  18. ^ Serene Lim (26 September 1991), "'Born a female, always a female' basis for ruling", The Straits Times .
  19. ^ Now the Women's Charter (Cap. 353, 2009 Rev. Ed.).
  20. ^ Women's Charter (Amendment) Act 1996 (No. 30 of 1996), in force on 1 May 1997, which enacted what is now s. 12 of the Women's Charter. The provision states, in part:

    (1) A marriage solemnized in Singapore or elsewhere between persons who, at the date of the marriage, are not respectively male and female shall be void.

    (2) It is hereby declared that ... a marriage solemnized in Singapore or elsewhere between a person who has undergone a sex re-assignment procedure and any person of the opposite sex is and shall be deemed always to have been a valid marriage.

    (3) For the purpose of this section —

    (a) the sex of any party to a marriage as stated at the time of the marriage in his or her identity card issued under the National Registration Act (Cap. 201) shall be prima facie evidence of the sex of the party; and

    (b) a person who has undergone a sex re-assignment procedure shall be identified as being of the sex to which the person has been re-assigned.

  21. ^ Geetha d/o Mundri v. Arivananthan s/o Retnam [1992] 1 S.L.R.(R) 326, High Court. See Serene Lim (17 March 1992), "Woman succeeds in having arranged marriage annulled", The Straits Times .
  22. ^ Chan Yeong Keay v. Yeo Mei Ling [1994] 2 S.L.R.(R) 133, High Court. See Tan Ooi Boon (14 May 1994), "Judge rules husband who was homemaker really the 'housewife'", The Straits Times ; John Lui (16 May 1994), "Women's charter protects homemaker, female or male", The Straits Times (Life!) .
  23. ^ Lim Puay Ling (30 November 2009), Maintenance of Parents Act, Singapore Infopedia, National Library Board, archived from the original on 18 June 2010, retrieved 18 June 2010 .
  24. ^ Lim Li Hsien (5 January 1997), "Twelve lawyers named as first senior counsel", The Straits Times ; Lim Li Hsien (2 February 1997), "Legal eagles – twelve good men", The Straits Times .
  25. ^ K. S. Rajah (August 2003), "The Unconstitutional Punishment", Singapore Law Gazette, archived from the original on 21 December 2007 . See also K.C. Vijayan (22 August 2003), "Lawyer wants review of 'death for murder' law", The Straits Times .
  26. ^ "CJ on 'death penalty' article", The Straits Times, 1 October 2003 .
  27. ^ "High Court Justice Callinan speaks out against death penalty" (PDF), Capital Punishment Update (New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties) (2), 8 April 2005, archived from the original on 30 August 2007, retrieved 18 June 2010, 22 March 2005: Three major speeches against capital punishment were delivered at the LawAsia 2005 Conference on the Gold Coast. ... K. S. Rajah SC (former judicial commissioner of Supreme Court of Singapore) spoke of the recent decision of the Singapore Court of Appeal dismissing Australian Mr Tuong Van Nguyen's appeal against his death sentence.  The text of the speech is available as K. S. Rajah (22 March 2005), The Mandatory Death Penalty (PDF), New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, archived from the original on 19 July 2008, retrieved 18 June 2010 .
  28. ^ K. S. Rajah (January 2006), "Appeal or Tried Again?", Singapore Law Gazette, archived from the original on 19 June 2010 . See Ben Nadarajan (27 January 2006), "Senior lawyer raises issue of double jeopardy", The Straits Times . The Singapore Constitution (1999 Reprint), Art. 11(2), states: "A person who has been convicted or acquitted of an offence shall not be tried again for the same offence except where the conviction or acquittal has been quashed and a retrial ordered by a court superior to that by which he was convicted or acquitted."
  29. ^ Janaine Lau (Head (Corporate Communications), Ministry of Law) (4 February 2006), "Senior lawyer wrong about 'double jeopardy' [letter]", The Straits Times ; K. S. Rajah (10 February 2006), "Has right to life been deprived under the law? [letter]", The Straits Times ; Janaine Lau (17 February 2006), "Double jeopardy: It's a legal question for court [letter]", The Straits Times .
  30. ^ Lo Pui Sang v. Mamata Kapildev Dave (Horizon Partners Pte. Ltd., intervener) [2008] 4 S.L.R.(R) 754, High Court. See Ben Nadarajan (7 October 2007), "The Horizon Towers show", The Sunday Times (Singapore) .
  31. ^ See also K. S. Rajah (20 March 2008), "Right to hold property guaranteed by law [letter]", The Straits Times .
  32. ^ Ng Eng Ghee v. Mamata Kapildev Dave (Horizon Partners Pte. Ltd., intervener) [2009] 3 S.L.R.(R) 109, Court of Appeal, which Rajah was not involved in. The constitutional point was not pursued on appeal.
  33. ^ "Sri K. S. Rajah [condolence notice]", The Straits Times, 18 June 2010: C17, Our heartfelt sympathies & deepest condolences to the family of our beloved Chairman. From: Members of Sri Aurobindo Society Singapore ,
  34. ^ "'Hinduism is relevant'", The Straits Times, 13 September 1982: 7 ; "Sri K. S. Rajah [condolence notice]", The Straits Times, 19 June 2010: C27, Past President Hindu Centre .
  35. ^ S Suressh, Harry Elias Partnership LLP, archived from the original on 1 August 2008, retrieved 20 June 2010 .
  36. ^ "K S Rajah [obituary notice]", The Straits Times, 18 June 2010: C17 .
  37. ^ "National Day award winners", The Straits Times, 12 August 2002 .
  38. ^ Teo Xuanwei (11 October 2008), "K S Rajah conferred C C Tan Award by Law Society", Today .

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • "The Law Gazette Pays Tribute to the Late Mr KS Rajah, SC", Singapore Law Gazette, September 2010 .

External links[edit]