The Law Society of Singapore v Ang Boon Kong Lawrence

CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
JudgeChao Hick Tin J
Judgment Date14 December 1992
Neutral Citation[1992] SGCA 86
Citation[1992] SGCA 86
Defendant CounselTan Boon Teik (Attorney-General) and Yang Ing Loong (State Counsel)
Plaintiff CounselWong Meng Meng (Tan Rajah & Cheah)
Published date19 September 2003
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 38 of 1990
Date14 December 1992
Subject MatterProfessional conduct,ss 86, 87 & 88 Legal Profession Act (Cap 217, 1970 Ed),Jurisdiction of inquiry committee to investigate into written complaint against legal officer,Jurisdiction of Law Society's Council to determine penalty,Legal officer,Jurisdiction of single judge to inquire into inquiry committee's conduct of matter,Breach,Disciplinary procedures,Legal Profession,Legal officer not acting in professional capacity as advocate and solicitor,Inquiry committee,Jurisdiction of single judge to inquire into Law Society's Council's determination of penalty for the purpose of quashing the decision of the Council,s 95 Legal Profession Act (Cap 217, 1970 Ed)

Cur Adv Vult

The respondent has at all relevant times been a deputy public prosecutor and an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court. In 1988 he was assigned to prosecute one Francis Seow in Summons No 90142/88 for alleged income tax offences. Seow was represented by Mr Colin Ross-Munro QC and Mr VK Dube.

The case came up for hearing in the district court on 5 December 1988.
That day Seow failed to appear. Mr Ross-Munro tendered to the court some documents, among which were two letters from a Dr Jonathan Fine which said that Seow was in New York with a serious heart condition and was unfit to travel back. Both letters were written on the letterhead of the Physicians for Human Rights, which listed Dr Fine as its executive director. In these letters, Dr Fine described the defendant`s heart condition and the risks if he should travel back to Singapore, and explained his referral to a Dr William Slater, a specialist in the field. It was assumed by all that Dr Fine was a licensed medical practitioner and his letters were based on his examination of the defendant, though none of this was expressly stated in either of the letters. Mr Ross-Munro referred to Dr Fine as a `New York doctor`. On the basis, inter alia, of these letters, Mr Ross-Munro asked for and obtained, over the respondent`s objections, an adjournment until the day after the specialist,Dr Slater, was due to examine the defendant, so that a full medical report could be obtained.

When the hearing resumed on 10 December 1988 Seow was still absent.
This time Mr Ross-Munro tendered the report of the specialist, Dr Slater, which confirmed that the defendant was unfit to travel and would be unfit indefinitely. The report set out the course of treatment prescribed for the defendant. In the course of his address Mr Ross-Munro referred back to Dr Fine`s `medical examination` of Seow. The case was adjourned again. The hearing of Summons No 90124/88 continued to be postponed.

On 15 March 1989 that summons came up for mention again.
In the intervening period much had happened. The prosecution had discovered that Dr Fine was not a licensed medical practitioner and had not in fact examined Seow, and that Dr Fine had confirmed both these facts in a letter to Mr Dube dated 22 February 1989. At the mention on 15 March 1989, Mr Dube tendered and read out to the court, inter alia, Dr Fine`s letter of 22 February 1989. Directly after that, he applied on behalf of Mr Ross-Munro and himself to be discharged from further acting for Seow. The respondent then addressed the court, reading from a written submission which he tendered, in the course of which he said essentially that

Mr Ross-Munro had misled the court advisedly and that Mr Ross-Munro and

Mr Dube had abetted the defendant in fabricating false evidence.
There are some discrepancies between the district judge`s notes of evidence, and the written submission as to what was actually said. According to the written submission, the relevant portion read:

Now as Mr Ross-Munro has not himself applied to be discharged, it is not proper for

Mr Dube as junior counsel to apply for a discharge. And if Mr Ross-Munro wishes to apply for a discharge, he must do so in person and give adequate reasons to this court. But before this, before QC is discharged, he must first explain why he had misled this court, on 5 and 10 December 1988 when in asking for the adjournment, by repeatedly referring to Dr Fine as the `New York doctor who had examined Seow and had advised him not to travel` (see N/E at pp 7, 8, 12, 15, 19, 20, 21, 23, 25 and 29). Now Dr Fine has admitted that he had never examined Seow at all. Mr Ross-Munro must explain to the court this serious contradiction between what QC said and what the doctor now states. The court has been misled by the defence. Offences under ss 182 and 193 of the Penal Code are disclosed as false information has been given by counsel for the purpose of seeking an adjournment. The consequences for Seow are serious and the consequences are equally serious for those who have aided and abetted him.



I submit that the court should refuse Mr Dube`s application for him or Mr Ross-Munro to be discharged, until adequate reasons or explanations are given by Dube and/or the QC.
It is very strange that on the five charges on which Seow has been convicted, Mr Ross-Munro and Mr Dube are still on record in the appeals as Seow`s lawyer. But in regard to this one charge before this court, Mr Dube is applying to be discharged. I must protest if counsel allow themselves to be used by their client to delay proceedings or to inconvenience the court.

If, however, both counsel want to discharge themselves, it must mean that neither of them now place any reliance on anything their client Francis Seow has said.


The district judge`s note of this portion was as follows:

Now as Mr Ross-Munro has not applied for discharge it is not proper for Mr Dube as junior counsel to apply for a discharge. And if Mr Ross-Munro wishes to apply for discharge he must do so in person and give reason to this court. But before Queen`s Counsel is discharged he must explain to court why he misled court on 5 and 10 December 1988 when in asking for adjournment by repeatedly referred to Dr Fine as New York doctor who examined Francis Seow who advised him not to travel. I said that he mislead court advisedly. ... This is what I meant. Counsel mislead court. ... Dr Fine admitted that he did not examine Francis Seow at all. Mr Ross-Munro must explain to court this serious contradiction between what Queen`s Counsel said and doctor said in report. This court has been mislead by defence on the 5 and 10 December 1988. Offences under 182 and 193 are disclosed as false information given by counsel for purpose of seeking adjournment. The consequence for Francis Seow are serious. And consequence serious for those who aided and abetted him. Court should refuse application until adequate reasons or explanations given by Mr Dube and Mr Ross-Munro. It is strange that on the five charges on which Francis Seow has been convicted Mr Ross and Mr Dube are still on record in the appeals as Francis Seow`s lawyer but regarding first charge they both applied to be discharge. I must protest for counsel allowed themselves to be used by client to delay proceeding or inconvenience court. If however both counsel want to discharge themselves it must be that neither of them place any reliance or anything that their client Francis Seow has said. I would say that it was discourteous of Mr Ross-Munro to have left court and it is discourteous for him to request Mr Dube to ask for discharge when he does not explain the reason in court and why he mislead the court.



As a result of what was said in those proceedings, Mr Ross-Munro sent to the respondent an explanatory letter dated 20 March 1989, in which disclosures were made of the solicitor-client correspondence:

2 Hare Court

Temple

London EC4Y 7BH

20 March 1989

Mr Ang c/o The Attorney-General`s Chambers, High Street, Singapore 0617

Dear Ang,

I have just received a copy of The Straits Times of 16 March 1989 in which you are reported to have said (inter alia) that I had misled the court into believing that Dr Fine was a New York doctor who had examined Seow and found him unfit to travel and to have further alleged that the court had been misled by the defence and that false information had been given by counsel for the purpose of seeking an adjournment. If you did make such allegations they are untrue and totally devoid of any foundation.



Dube and I have now been informed by our client that he has waived his privilege in relation to the advice we have given him and the instructions we received in December 1988 relating to his non-appearance in Singapore and in particular to

Dr Fine`s Report of 3 December 1988. The facts are as follows:

(1) I was instructed to defend Seow in respect of certain tax offences and flew out to Singapore on 30 December 1988. I had no instructions (prior to Saturday 3 December) to apply for an adjournment and as far as I was concerned I expected the trial to start on Monday 5 December 1988.

(2) In the early afternoon of Saturday 3 December I was informed that Seow was still in New York and would not be returning to Singapore because of his heart condition.

(3) I telephoned Seow shortly thereafter and advised him in the strongest possible terms that he should take an immediate flight back to Singapore. I pointed out (inter alia) that the prosecution were likely to say that if he was fit enough to travel to New York by air in November he must be fit enough to travel back to Singapore in December. Seow informed me that his New York doctor, Dr Fine, had told him that by reason of his heart condition he was not fit to travel back to Singapore and ran a real risk to his health if he did so. As I was unable to persuade him to return I advised him that his New York doctor must furnish us with a medical certificate which I would have to put before the court on Monday 5 December when applying for an adjournment. He said that Dr Fine would fax us a medical certificate as quickly as possible. Thereafter Dube tried to contact you to tell you what had happened but I gather there was no reply from your office.

(4) The medical certificate from Dr Fine dated 3 December 1988 duly arrived by fax and as you know I handed you a copy thereof before the hearing started on Monday 5 December and thereafter gave the medical certificate to the court. By reason of the matters et (sic) out in 3 above I assumed:

(a) that Dr Fine was a doctor who practised in New York and

(b) that he had examined Seow before coming to his conclusion `it would not be advisable for him to travel internationally until a medical evaluation takes place by a qualified specialist and medication can be prescribed and take effect that will restore his heart to a...

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