CASE NOTE:LAW SOCIETY OF SINGAPORE v SINGHAM DENNIS MAHENDRAN [2001] 1 SLR 566

Citation(2001) 13 SAcLJ 216
Date01 December 2001
Published date01 December 2001
Introduction:

Section 83 of the Legal Profession Act (Cap. 161, 1997 Revised Edition) (the “Act”) provides that:

“(1) All advocates and solicitors shall be subject to the control of the Supreme Court and shall be liable on due cause shown to be struck off the roll or suspended from practice for any period not exceeding 5 years or censured.

(2) Such due cause may be shown by proof that an advocate and solicitor —

(b) has been guilty of fraudulent or grossly improper conduct in the discharge of his professional duty or guilty of such a breach of any usage or rule of conduct made by the Council under the provisions of this Act as amounts to improper conduct or practice as an advocate and solicitor;

(h) has been guilty of such misconduct unbefitting an advocate and solicitor as an officer of the Supreme Court or as a member of an honourable profession; …”

To what extent a sexual liaison between a solicitor and his client is considered grossly improper conduct in the discharge of his professional duties within the meaning of section 83(2)(b) of the Act has never been before the courts until recently in Law Society of Singapore v Singham Dennis Mahendran (“the Respondent”)[2001] 1 SLR 566. This is the first case in Singapore of an advocate and solicitor facing disciplinary action for sexual misconduct.

The Case:

A Disciplinary Committee had been appointed to hear and investigate inter alia1, a charge formulated by the Law Society of Singapore against the Respondent that he was guilty of grossly improper conduct in the discharge of his professional duties within the meaning of section 83(2)(b) of the Act in that he carried on a sexual relationship with a client of his firm of which he was a partner during the period when he was the solicitor having conduct of divorce proceedings instituted by the client. The

Disciplinary Committee eventually found the Respondent guilty of this charge.

An Originating Summons was then filed by the Law Society for the Respondent to show cause why he should not be dealt with under the provisions of section 83 of the Act.

At the Show Cause hearing before the Court of three judges, the Respondent was ordered to be suspended from practice as an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore for a period of three years and he was also ordered to pay the Law Society’s costs in the present proceedings and of the proceedings before the Disciplinary Committee.

The brief facts leading to the charge against the Respondent as found by the Disciplinary Committee were that the Respondent was consulted by the client on 10 April 1995 whilst he was a senior partner in a firm of advocates and solicitors. He was asked to represent her in divorce proceedings which she wanted to bring against her then husband. Between April 1995 when the client’s divorce petition was filed and October 1995 when the decree nisi was made absolute, the Respondent initiated and carried on a sexual relationship with her whilst there was a solicitor-client relationship in existence between them. After the client had started divorce proceedings, her then husband made several attempts to reconcile. By then, the client was convinced by the Respondent that there was no way her then husband could treat her as well as the Respondent had done. By September 1995, the Respondent was introducing the client to some people as his wife. The relationship broke down after two years and the client eventually consulted lawyers on the Respondent’s breach of promise to marry her. The Respondent then offered $200,000 as a parting gift which the client accepted. This was encapsulated in a Deed of Settlement which stated that the parties had mutually agreed to end their two-year relationship. These facts were unchallenged by the Respondent at the Show Cause hearing and were relied upon by the Court.

The Disciplinary Committee found that the Respondent’s conduct in engaging in a sexual relationship with the client while he was her solicitor amounted to grossly improper conduct within the meaning of section 83(2)(b) of the Act. Though this finding was not challenged by the

Respondent, the Court proceeded to determine whether the Respondent’s conduct did indeed amount to grossly...

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