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 Yeo Poh Tiang [Yang Baozhen] (Respondent), Advocate & Solicitor
These proceedings arose from a complaint lodged by one Mdm Koh Hwee Miem (Complainant).
On 12 February 2020, the Complainant paid Yeo & Associates LLC (the Firm) a sum of fees to utilise the services offered on an online portal developed by the Respondent to facilitate and expedite uncontested divorces (the Portal).
On 5 March 2020, the Complainant requested for a full refund of fees paid as there had been no communication with either the Firm or the Respondent following the payment made on 12 February 2020. The Firm rejected the Complainant’s request on the following grounds:
- Payment made was non-refundable; and
- Payment was considered “fully utilised” upon access to the Portal pages.
In the absence of an amicable resolution, the Complainant lodged a complaint against the Respondent by way of a letter to the Law Society of Singapore (the Law Society).
Upon the application of Council, the Chief Justice empanelled a Disciplinary Tribunal (DT) presided by Mr Andre Yeap SC and Mr Anand Nalachandran as DT member.
Two (2) charges and two (2) alternative charges (collectively, the Charges) were preferred against the Respondent.
For improper conduct or practice as an advocate and solicitor within the meaning of section 83(2)(b) of the Legal Profession Act 1966 (LPA), in which the Respondent breached Rule 17(3) of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules (PCR), having failed to inform the Complainant that the fees paid were charged on a non-refundable basis.
Alternative First Charge
For misconduct unbefitting an advocate and solicitor as an officer of the Supreme Court or as a member of an honourable profession within the meaning of section 83(2)(h) of the LPA, in that the Respondent failed to inform the Complainant that fees paid were charged on a non-refundable basis.
For improper conduct or practice as an advocate and solicitor within the meaning of section 83(2)(b) of the LPA, in which the Respondent breached Rules 5(2)(c) and (h) of the PCR, having failed to provide and/or initiate the timely provision of services paid for by the Complainant, despite representations that services were fast and expedient.
Alternative Second Charge
For misconduct unbefitting an advocate and solicitor as an officer of the Supreme Court or as a member of an honourable profession within the meaning of section 83(2)(h) of the LPA, in that the Respondent failed to provide and/or initiate the timely provision of services paid for by the Complainant, despite representations that services were fast and expedient.
Findings and Determination of the DT
The DT found that the First Charge was made out.
The DT found that the Complainant had become a client of the Respondent and the Firm from the time the Complainant utilised the Portal and made payment of the fees on 12 February 2020. The DT found that the disclaimers on the Portal did not negate the presence of a retainer, noting that the disclaimers on the Portal referred to registered users as “clients”.
The DT also found that the disclaimers on the Portal did not inform users that their payments were non-refundable. The DT did not accept the Respondent’s explanation that the phrase set out in the Portal being, “your payment is considered fully utilized when you access the subsequent pages for the paid service” adequately conveyed that fees were paid on a non-refundable basis as a “fully utilized” payment could still be refunded.
The DT found that the Second Charge was not made out.
The DT did not find that the Respondent had failed to act with reasonable diligence and competence in providing timely advice to the Complainant, as the Portal provided users with 30 days to edit the online forms submitted. The DT therefore concluded that the Respondent had not acted unreasonably in waiting for the Complainant to edit the forms.
Having made their findings on the Charges, the DT determined that while no cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action existed under section 83 of the LPA, the Respondent should be reprimanded.
Pursuant to section 93(2) of the LPA, the DT ordered that costs fixed at $8,000 (plus reasonable disbursements) be paid to the Law Society.
Council adopted the findings and recommendations of the DT.
To access the full report, click here.