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 section 93(5) of the Legal Profession Act.
In the Matter of Teo Eng Thye (Respondent), Advocate & Solicitor
These proceedings arose out of a complaint made against the Respondent by one Ms Goh Yng Yng Karen (the Complainant), who was the daughter of the late Mdm Liew Khoon Fong (Mdm Liew) and executrix of Mdm Liew’s will.
The complaint arose from two Powers of Attorney (POA) dated 20 November 2017. POA 6414 was related to the sale of 107 Namly Avenue (Namly Property), while POA 6417 was related to the purchase of a condominium unit (Condominium Unit). At the material time, Mdm Liew was 87 years old.
On or around 17 November 2017, Mdm Liew’s son (Kelvin), as well as Kelvin’s wife (Jacqueline), visited the Respondent to seek his assistance to prepare two POAs for Mdm Liew who was not present at this meeting.
On Kelvin’s instructions, the Respondent prepared the two POAs for Mdm Liew on or around 20 November 2017. The Respondent had prepared the draft POAs without receiving any written, or any other authority, from Mdm Liew authorising Kelvin to give him instructions on her behalf.
The Respondent met and spoke to Mdm Liew for the first time on 20 November 2017 at the Namly Property. Kelvin, Jacqueline, their sons, one Goh Eng Sheng Daniel (Daniel) and one Goh Eng Chun David (David) were present. Mdm Liew signed the POAs at this meeting.
POA 6414 authorised Kelvin to act on Mdm Liew’s behalf to sell the Namly Property and have the sale proceeds paid to Daniel, then 19 years old, to hold on trust for Mdm Liew for the purchase of the Condominium Unit.
POA 6417 authorised Kelvin to purchase the Condominium Unit in Mdm Liew and Daniel’s names, with Kelvin having the authority to add himself as a joint owner. It also authorised Kelvin to borrow monies from banks and other financial institutions on the security of the Condominium Unit if the sale proceeds from the Namly Property sale were insufficient. Kelvin was also authorised to execute documents, such as an option to purchase and sale and purchase agreement on behalf of Mdm Liew.
On 22 November 2017, Kelvin granted an Option to Purchase (OTP) to buyers for the purchase of the Namly Property. The OTP was exercised on 7 December 2017, and the Respondent was appointed by Kelvin to act as Mdm Liew’s conveyancing lawyer with respect to the sale of the Namly Property.
On 1 December 2017, the OTP for the Condominium Unit was granted to Kelvin and Jacqueline with the OTP being exercised on 8 December 2017 in the names of Kelvin, Jacqueline and Mdm Liew. The Respondent also acted for Kelvin, Jacqueline and Mdm Liew in this transaction.
On 13 December 2017, the Complainant discovered that a caveat had been lodged against the Namly Property.
On 15 January 2018, the Complainant commenced HC/S 45/2018 (Suit 45) in her capacity as Mdm Liew’s sole donee under a Lasting Power of Attorney to stop the sale of the Namly Property. On 17 September 2020, the High Court determined that Mdm Liew had lacked the mental capacity to understand and execute the POAs on 20 November 2017 and declared the POAs void. The Respondent was not a party to Suit 45 but had given evidence at the trial.
Mdm Liew passed away on 10 June 2020.
The Chief Justice empanelled a Disciplinary Tribunal (DT) presided by Mr Davinder Singh SC, and Mr K Anparasan as DT member to investigate the complaint.
Seven charges were preferred against the Respondent:
For improper conduct or practice as an advocate and solicitor under section 83(2)(b)(i) of the Legal Profession Act 1966 (LPA), in that the Respondent had acted for Mdm Liew in the preparation of the two POAs dated 20 November 2017 with the client as the donor and Kelvin as attorney, without ensuring that Kelvin had the authority to give those instructions on behalf of Mdm Liew, and when the Respondent had no evidence of such authority, failed to obtain confirmation of the said instructions from Mdm Liew regarding the preparation and drafting of the said POAs, in breach of Rule 5(5)(a) and 5(5)(b) of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules 2015 (PCR).
For improper conduct or practice as an advocate and solicitor under section 83(2)(b)(i) of the LPA, in that the Respondent had failed to act with reasonable diligence and competence in the provision of services to Mdm Liew, in the preparation of the two POAs dated 20 November 2017 with the client as the donor and Kelvin as attorney, and permitted Mdm Liew to execute the said POAs without first taking sufficient steps to satisfy himself that Mdm Liew understood the nature and effect of the terms that were set out in the POAs, in breach of Rule 5(2)(c) of the PCR.
For improper conduct or practice as an advocate and solicitor under section 83(2)(b)(i) of the LPA, in that the Respondent had failed to act with reasonable diligence and competence in the provision of services to Mdm Liew, by failing to take sufficient steps to safeguard Mdm Liew’s interests by ensuring that he received his instructions, and explained the nature and effect of the two POAs dated 20 November 2017, to Mdm Liew without the presence of the attorney or other family members of the attorney so as to avoid any undue influence being exerted over the client, in breach of Rule 5(2)(c) of the PCR.
For improper conduct or practice as an advocate and solicitor under section 83(2)(b)(i) of the LPA, in that the Respondent had acted for Mdm Liew, Kelvin and Jacqueline in the purchase of the Condominium Unit, where there was a diversity of interests that existed between the parties, and failed to advance Mdm Liew’s interests unaffected by Kelvin’s and/or Jacqueline’s interests, by removing Mdm Liew’s name from the OTP dated 1 December 2017, in breach of Rules 20(5) and 20(6) of the PCR.
For improper conduct or practice as an advocate and solicitor under section 83(2)(b)(i) of the LPA, in that the Respondent failed to inform Mdm Liew of all information known to him that may reasonably affect her interests in respect of the purchase of the Condominium Unit, in particular the removal of her name, the non-inclusion of Daniel’s name, and the inclusion of Jacqueline’s name, in the OTP dated 1 December 2017, in breach of Rule 5(2)(b) of the PCR.
For improper conduct or practice as an advocate and solicitor under section 83(2)(b)(i) of the LPA, in that the Respondent had failed to inform Mdm Liew of all information known to him that may reasonably affect Mdm Liew’s interests in respect of the POAs, in particular the medical report prepared by Dr Ang Yong Guan and correspondence from Templars Law LLC relating to Mdm Liew’s alleged lack of mental capacity as at the time of the execution of the POAs, in breach of Rule 5(2)(b) of the PCR.
For misconduct unbefitting of an advocate and solicitor in the discharge of his professional duties as an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore as set out in section 83(2)(h) of the Act, in that the Respondent, who had acted for Mdm Liew in respect of the matters that were the subject-matter of Suit 45, failed to advance Mdm Liew’s interests unaffected by Kelvin’s interests, by failing to take Mdm Liew’s instructions or her donee’s instructions when he was served with a subpoena by solicitors acting in Suit 45, and instead taking Kelvin’s instructions.
Findings and Determination of the DT, Council’s Sanctions
The DT found that the First Charge and Second Charge were made out, while the remaining Charges were dismissed.
With reference to the First Charge, the DT noted that the disparity between the Respondent’s evidence about the meeting on 20 November 2017 and what was said in the Respondent’s Attendance Note was simply too huge to be credibly accounted for. The DT further observed that it was not just the nature, terms and implications of the POAs which required careful explanation, but also the issues arising from the interaction between the two POAs.
The DT stated that as Mdm Liew was 87 years old at the time and had difficulty speaking, the Respondent should not only have carefully explained the relevant matters, but should also have asked if they were in line with her wishes and instructions and how she thought they were in her interests – including asking why she felt that it was in her interest for the POAs to be irrevocable. Also, as Mdm Liew was unable to communicate her understanding verbally or in writing, the Respondent should have called for a pause and asked for her condition to be reviewed by an independent medical expert or declined to act for her.
Two specific red flags were raised by the DT – (1) the fact that Mdm Liew nodded when the Respondent read the POAs to her, in light of these particular POAs that he was asked to draft by Kelvin, and the fact that one of them dealt with the disposal of her home, it should not have been accepted by the Respondent as evidence that she understood the terms, nature and consequences in the POA; (2) the fact that she did not ask any questions in light of the issues in the POAs should have raised a red flag.
Crucially, the Respondent also did not take steps to meet Mdm Liew privately and without the presence of Kelvin and Daniel, who stood to benefit from the POAs, and their family members to determine whether Mdm Liew was acting under any misrepresentation, misapprehension or improper influence. The Respondent also did not ask Mdm Liew whether the POAs accorded with her wishes under any will.
As for the Second Charge, the DT found that the offending conduct was the same, hence it did not add to the Respondent’s culpability.
In the Third Charge, the DT found that this aspect of the Respondent’s conduct was insufficient to amount to a breach of Rule 5(2)(c), and his conduct should not be viewed in isolation, and was just one of the matters that has to be taken into account in determining whether the Respondent breached his duties.
The Fourth to Seventh Charges were dismissed based on the fact that Law Society had failed to discharge its burden to show that there was in law a solicitor-client relationship between the Respondent and Mdm Liew at the material time in relation to the Condominium Unit.
The Respondent was ordered to pay a financial penalty that was sufficient and appropriate to the misconduct committed, and the Law Society’s costs of $5,000.
Council accepted the findings and recommendations of the DT and imposed a financial penalty of $2,000 on the Respondent.
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