Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Best I Could


I read Subhas Anandan's "The Best I Could" last month.


The book was launched in December last year but I did not take immediate notice of it. In the weeks following that, I kept seeing this title appearing on the Straits Times' non-fiction bestsellers list. The weekly bestseller list is a compilation of the week's bestsellers from Kinokuniya, Borders, MPH, Page One, Popular and Times bookstores. For a book to stay on it for weeks (probably months in this case), there must be some charm about it.

I went to the book store and browsed the book. I was under the impression that I would be reading some stuffy capital cases in a language that is best understood by people in the law fraternity. It was not the case and I knew then I wanted to go through the rest of the pages.


Subhas Anandan is the head of KhattarWong's Criminal Department. In his 37 years as a lawyer, he has handled more than 1,500 criminal cases, many of which shocked the relatively low-crime Singapore. He took two years to tell 15 of his best known criminal cases in this book.

Even if you have not heard of Subhas Anandan, you would have heard of some of the infamous cases handled by him. Surely names such as Anthony Ler, Huang Na and 'Ah Long San' ring a bell.

The book does not just give insights into those capital cases. In fact, Subhas Anandan started the book with his childhood days at the Sembawang Naval Base. He narrated how that chapter of his life has helped to shape him. He also shared various viewpoints from his days as a student in Naval Base, Raffles Institute and the Singapore University.

At some point, I was quite appalled by his rulelessness especially during his days in the university. He appeared to be a very strong student leader but he was also one who would walk around with a bomb ready to detonate at the slightest indication of injustice. It was as if he was overflowing with his sense of righteousness.


The author's life story includes how he was framed by a rogue policeman and ended up in the prison. During his 10 months behind bars, he got to know some of the prisoners well. I really enjoyed reading the lighter side of his miserable stint in the prison.

One thing for sure, the book is not just a compilation of what the media have previously reported. Subhas Anandan viewed these cases from his eyes. From time to time, he stepped out of his capacity as the defense lawyer and gave a personal view of the law. Even though personal, his views sounded to me, objective and honest. Taking in such views from someone who is seen to have put in his best fight to defend murderers, it can be ironical and satirical.

Many of his clients were sent to the gallows. In this aspect, Subhas Anandan shared his view on death sentence. Even though he believes that the Singapore justice system works most of the time, he did point out some shortcomings. He also sent a strong message on drug abuses and gambling.

Subhas Anandan told the unreported stories behind the 15 criminal cases. I could sense that he tried to keep his objectivity but the human emotion of loyalty, compassion and fairness kept emerging throughout his narration. The stories also revealed how destructive human weaknesses can be. I guess human behavior will always bewilder me.


On a softer and personal side, Subhas Anandan talked about his bond with his mother and the pain he felt when his younger brother died in the SQ006 incident which happened at the Chiang Kai-Shek Airport (Taiwan) in Oct 2000.

The book is cleverly written with lots of humour and wit, something I do not expect from a book on criminal cases. Even though I have read more captivating books before, I would say that this book is far from boring. I actually could not quite put it down.

For a long time, I have been trying to understand 'lawyers' talk'. I struggle constantly to figure out the choice of words and the style of language used in legal writings. I am sure I am not alone in my hair-pulling experience. Lay people like me have great difficulties in making some sense out of lawyers' convoluted arguments and reasoning. Sometimes, I wonder if there has been some kind of conspiracy amongst the lawyers to deliberately create their own 'dialect' so as to exclude those not of the same genre.

The author of this book is more than capable of putting me through that kind of torture but I am glad that he did not. In fact, the book is written with lay readers in mind and it is absolutely readable by any legally untrained person.


My closing thoughts:

1. It is tough being a litigation lawyer, especially so if he is dealing with criminal law.
2. Everyone deserves a fair trial and behind every heinous crime lies a very human story.
3. It is human to have greed and jealousy but it is inhuman when they are strong enough to kill.
4. Criminal lawyers have compassion too and a good criminal lawyer can decant it from their hearts at will while at work.
5. No one should say that an acquitted person is definitely not guilty.
6. No one can ever be sure that those sent to the gallows deserve that closure.
7. No justice system is foolproof because it is judged by human.

Finally, I am glad that I am not a criminal lawyer.


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