Murali: ‘Ensuring the least advantaged have access to justice has defined my legal career.’ 

Source of image: Murali Pillai/Facebook

Minister of State for Law and Transport Murali Pillai said ensuring the least advantaged “have good access to justice” has always defined his legal career. He also pledged to continue serving his constituents to the best of his ability.    

Mr Murali, 56, Member of Parliament for Bukit Batok SMC, joined the government as Minister of State for Law and Transport on July 1. A Senior Counsel and former partner at Rajah & Tann, Mr Murali had been in private practice for 28 years.

In an exclusive Petir interview, Mr Murali said he will miss handling pro bono cases and capital charges now that he is leaving legal practice. Since being elected as an MP in 2016, he has continued to represent individuals charged with everything from fights among juveniles to complex drug trafficking. 

“Ensuring the least (advantage) among us have good access to justice has always defined my legal career,” he said. “I will certainly miss the cut and thrust of litigation in court.” 

Before becoming the MP for Bukit Batok SMC, Mr Murali served under the late Dr Ong Chit Chung, who was MP for Bukit Batok Constituency from 1988 to 2008, in 2000. He helped Dr Ong run weekly legal clinics for Bukit Batok residents and took on pro bono cases. 

One of the most memorable cases involved helping a widow with five children in his early years in Bukit Batok. He said that the couple had been well-off with the husband running a business and driving a Mercedes. But his business failed, debts mounted, and the shop had to close. Her husband subsequently passed away due to cancer, leaving her with debts.  

After the husband’s death, attempts were made to combine the shop’s unpaid utilities bill with her residential home’s utilities bill. This increased the arrears from $170 to thousands of dollars. 

“She asked me: ‘If I pass away, will my debt be assigned to my children?’ Mr Murali recalled. “I realised that in her mental state, she was thinking of giving up. And she was concerned that if she were to commit suicide, her debts would become her children’s debts. She’s obviously depressed.” 

Thankfully, Mr Murali’s team intervened in time. They addressed the woman’s issues holistically, got her counsellors, and she recovered. 

“She moved on with life with her five children,” he said. “That was endearing. It spurred me to continue.” He added. “Each case is unique. We always see how we can help. If we can’t help, we explain the big picture. But what’s important is everyone deserves a listening ear.” 
Mr Murali said that he had been fortunate in his legal practice. He is particularly gratified to be appointed Senior Counsel in 2020. Senior Counsel are considered an elite group with top-tier advocacy skills, professional integrity and legal expertise. 

He explained one motivation was to cultivate a group of young, highly qualified, and dedicated lawyers who would excel.  

“I am glad I have shaped such people who I think are poised to take over from me. That’s an endearing moment,” he said. ” While I leave practice, I have left a strong core of lawyers who will continue to serve clients as well as the Court at the highest levels.”  

Murali: ‘I am determined to continue serving my constituents to the best of my ability.’ 

Though Mr Murali has left his legal practice for public service, he remains committed to his constituents. 

When asked about their reaction to his new appointments, Mr Murali said that he returned home on May 13, the day of the announcement, around 9:30 pm hoping to reply to well-wishes from constituents and friends by midnight. However, he found that he still had many unread emails and WhatsApp messages at 3:30 am and could only attend to them the next day. 

“I was touched by all the congratulatory messages. My spirits were lifted,” he said. “Most knew that as a front bencher, I would remain accessible.” 

Mr Murali was grateful for his constituents’ support. “Without it, I would not have gotten this opportunity. I am determined to continue serving my constituents to the best of my ability. That will not change.” 

ICYMI, read:

Murali’s part 1 interview: Murali Pillai on joining the public service: ‘I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. I will give my all.’ 

Murali’s part 2 interview: Parliamentarians debate to have clarity on both side’s viewpoints: Murali