Disciplinary Tribunal Reports
Pursuant to section 93(5) of the Legal Profession Act, the Council of the Law Society is required to publish the findings and determination of the Disciplinary Tribunal in the Singapore Law Gazette or in such other media as the Council may determine to adequately inform the public of the same.
This summary is published pursuant to the requirement of s 93(5) of the Legal Profession Act.
In the Matter of Lee Terk Yang (the “Respondent”), Advocate and Solicitor
The Disciplinary Tribunal has determined under section 93(1)(c) of the Legal Profession Act that cause for sufficient gravity exists for disciplinary action under section 83 of the Act.
The disciplinary proceedings against the Respondent arose from a complaint that the Respondent had engaged in sexual intercourse with the client in the course of representing her in her divorce proceedings.
“You Lee Terk Yang, are guilty of grossly improper conduct in the discharge of your professional duties within the meaning of section 83(2)(b) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161) in that you had a close personal relationship with a client between December 2013 and March 2014 and/or did engage in sexual intercourse with the client between 28 and 29 January 2014, when you were the solicitor having conduct of negotiations in respect of ancillary matters in divorce proceedings instituted in the High Court by the client.”
Findings by the Disciplinary Tribunal (“DT”)
The DT agrees with the approach taken by the Respondent that the admitted conduct whilst “grossly improper” by itself cannot automatically give rise to the determination that “cause of sufficient gravity” exists under section 83. Such determination is only arrived at by way of meticulous fact based enquiry along with a scrutiny of all applicable mitigation factors. In terms of precedent, the DT notes that the decision in Dennis Singham looms large in these proceedings and regardless of whether actual prejudice is caused, the solicitor-client relationship should not be compromised by indiscretions of this nature when it occupies the highest position of trust and confidence, even though the Respondent has not taken any step in the substantial part of the proceedings, and has taken steps subsequently to transfer the file to another firm.
In making the determination that there was cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action under section 93(1)(c) of the Act, the DT was mindful that the Respondent had engaged in a personal and sexual relationship which was not a one off and there is a conflict between his and his client’s interest. Further such conduct tarnished his own reputation as an advocate and solicitor as well as the profession as a whole. These factors elevated the present case of gross misconduct to one of cause of sufficient gravity’.
The Council’s Decision
Council adopted the findings and recommendations of the DT and accordingly proceeded to apply for leave under section 98 of the Act for the Respondent to show cause as to why he should not suffer the sanctions set out in section 83 of the Act.
The Court of Three Judges
The Court of Three Judges ordered that the Respondent be suspended for a period of three months.
In the Matter of Joseph Chen Kok Siang, an Advocate and Solicitor.
The Disciplinary Tribunal determined under section 93(1)(b) of the Legal Profession Act that, whilst no cause for sufficient gravity exists for disciplinary action under section 83 of the Act, the Respondent should be reprimanded.
The Respondent rendered an invoice to his client for $35,000 for professional fees contrary to the agreed fees of $8,000 without first informing his client of any change in circumstances, in breach of sections 111 and 112(3) of the Legal Profession Act read with Rule 35 of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules.
Findings of the Disciplinary Tribunal (“DT”)
The DT observed how this case illustrates the importance of having clear fee arrangements, which reflect the course of litigation and the consequent work done. As a principle, in setting out agreed or capped fees in their engagement, solicitors should:
- Clearly identify the stage of work such agreed/capped fees apply to;
- Set out the agreed/capped fees at each stage so that the effect of any unexpected event does not impact on the fees to be charged beyond that stage;
- Clearly identify the circumstances in which the agreed/capped fee arrangement can be changed and the process for change and notification; and
- Use clear, simple and unambiguous language in communicating with the client, particularly in matters involving fees.
Nonetheless, the DT observed that the costs of $35,000 levied by the Respondent commensurate with the work done and is not excessive
The Council’s Decision
Council accepted and adopted the findings and recommendation of the DT and accordingly reprimanded the Respondent. Costs was fixed at $5,000 plus reasonable disbursements to be paid by the Respondent to the Law Society.
In the Matter of Harjeet Singh, an Advocate and Solicitor
Pursuant to section 93(1)(c) of the Legal Profession Act, the Disciplinary Tribunal (“DT”) determined that cause for sufficient gravity exists for disciplinary action under section 83 of the Act.
The disciplinary proceedings arose from information referred by the Court of Appeal hearing a dispute between the beneficiaries of an estate. In its judgment, the Court of Appeal expressed concern with the professional conduct of the Respondent, namely that there was potential conflict of interest as between the Respondent’s client and other siblings and that the Respondent failed to advise each of the siblings to seek independent legal advice.
The Respondent pleaded guilty to four amended charges and therefore the DT was obliged to determine whether a cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action exists under section 83 of the Act.
Findings of the Disciplinary Tribunal
The DT found no deliberate or wilful blindness on the part of the Respondent in his conduct of the estate matter. Accordingly, the DT determined that whilst no cause of sufficient gravity exists for disciplinary action against the Respondent under section 83 of the LPA, he should be reprimanded or ordered to pay a penalty sufficient and appropriate to the misconduct committed. Further, the DT ordered that the Respondent bear the Society’s costs of the proceedings which is to be taxed if not agreed.
The Council’s Decision
The Council accepted the findings of the DT and accordingly reprimanded the Respondent.