Law Society of Singapore v Ong Ying Ping

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Judgment Date15 July 2005
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 1084 of 2004 (Notice of Motion No 27 of 2005)
Date15 July 2005

[2005] SGHC 120

High Court

Yong Pung How CJ

,

Chao Hick Tin JA

and

Andrew Phang Boon Leong JC

Originating Summons No 1084 of 2004 (Notice of Motion No 27 of 2005)

Law Society of Singapore
Plaintiff
and
Ong Ying Ping
Defendant

Ramesh Tiwary (Edmond Pereira & Partners) for the applicant

C R Rajah SC (Tan Rajah & Cheah) and Chia Boon Teck (Chia Yeo Partnership) for the respondent.

Bolton v Law Society [1994] 1 WLR 512 (folld)

Law Society of Singapore v Arjan Chotrani Bisham [2001] 1 SLR (R) 231; [2001] 1 SLR 684 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Ganesan Krishnan [2003] 2 SLR (R) 251 [2003] 2 SLR 251 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Heng Guan Hong Geoffrey [1999] 3 SLR (R) 966; [2000] 1 SLR 361 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Lau See-Jin Jeffrey [1999] 1 SLR (R) 724; [1999] 2 SLR 215 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Ng Chee Sing [2000] 1 SLR (R) 466; [2000] 2 SLR 165 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Ravindra Samuel [1999] 1 SLR (R) 266; [1999] 1 SLR 696 (folld)

Law Society of Singapore v Tham Yu Xian Rick [1999] 3 SLR (R) 68; [1999] 4 SLR 168 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Wee Wei Fen [1999] 3 SLR (R) 559; [2000] 1 SLR 234 (refd)

Practitioner,In re A (1984) 36 SASR 590 (folld)

Evidence Act (Cap 97,1997Rev Ed)s 116

Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2001Rev Ed)ss 83, 98 (consd)

Legal Profession–Show cause action–Person accompanying advocate and solicitor to interview with prisoner was prisoner's wife–Advocate and solicitor misleading prison officers as to identity of person accompanying by failing to disclose person's relationship with prisoner in disregard of prison rules on visitation–Whether advocate and solicitor's conduct amounting to misconduct unbefitting an advocate and solicitor–Whether appropriate for court to grant application–Appropriate penalty–Sections 83 (2) (h) and 98 (5) Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2001 Rev Ed)

The respondent, an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore, acted for a client (“the prisoner”) who had been remanded in Queenstown Remand Prison (“the prison”).

The respondent requested, by way of a letter (“letter of request”), to interview the prisoner. Permission was not sought for any other person to attend this particular interview. The letter of approval granted by the prison authorities permitted the respondent, only, to be present at the interview.

The respondent informed the prisoner's wife (“Ms Tan”) of this interview session. On the day of the interview, Ms Tan arrived at the prison before the respondent. Ms Tan approached the Chief Wardress to ask if she could accompany her husband's lawyer (the respondent) for his interview with the prisoner. Her request was declined.

Subsequently, the respondent was asked about the identity of Ms Tan in two instances, ie at the wicket gate of the prison and the gate office. The respondent answered on both occasions that she was his assistant. At the gate office, the respondent indicated his office address for both himself as well Ms Tan.

At the interview room, the respondent was asked to write down the purpose of Ms Tan's visit as well as to state that she was not related to the prisoner on the letter of request. The respondent wrote down “and Ms Tan Teck Cheng Linda to assist in obtaining information from the prisoner”. There was some dispute as to how the words came to be written down on the letter of request. More significantly, the respondent had not declared, on the letter of request, that Ms Tan was not related to the prisoner.

The Prison Superintendent subsequently wrote to the respondent twice in order to clarify Ms Tan's status. The respondent not only demanded an apology but also stated that “it is the easiest of procedures to create documentation for a lawyer's firm to employ a prisoner's family member around the time of a scheduled visit” and that “ [a]fter the visit, the 'employment' would be terminated 'for personal reasons'”.

On 24 December 2001, the Prison Superintendent lodged a complaint against the respondent with the Law Society of Singapore (“the Law Society”). A charge was brought by the Law Society against the respondent pursuant to s 83 (2) (h) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2001 Rev Ed) (“the Act”) inasmuch as the respondent was alleged to have been guilty of misconduct unbefitting an advocate and solicitor as he had failed to disclose that Ms Tan was related to the prisoner he was interviewing and had misled the prison officers to believe that she was his assistant. The Disciplinary Committee of the Law Society found that cause of sufficient gravity existed for disciplinary action against the respondent. The Law Society applied under s 98 (5) of the Act to make absolute an order to show cause.

Held, granting the application and suspending the respondent from practice for two years:

(1) The respondent had failed to comply with the rule that no close relative of a prisoner would be allowed to accompany the prisoner's lawyer to an interview with the client (“the rule”). However, regardless of the precise content of the rule the respondent had in mind at the material time, he was at least aware of the existence of a rule and would have discovered the actual content of the rule if he had attempted to comply with it. He had, instead, deliberately misled the prison officers concerned in order to assist Ms Tan in gaining entry into the prison. This was, in and of itself, improper conduct that fell within the ambit of s 83 (2) (h) of the Act, regardless (once again) of the precise content of the rule the respondent had in mind: at [43], [44] and [60].

(2) Even if the respondent had thought that the reason that Ms Tan could not accompany him was due to the fact that she had not applied for written permission earlier, this was an unacceptable argument since the respondent ought then to have sought permission, thus ensuring that the rule would be either waived or complied with. The respondent nevertheless embarked on conduct quite to the contrary inasmuch as he misled the prison officers instead: at [49], [50] and [60].

(3) It was highly probable that the respondent knew that Ms Tan had been denied permission because of her status as the prisoner's wife. There was, on the facts, either actual knowledge or something akin to it as the respondent had deliberately shut his eyes to the entire situation and had chosen to mislead the prison officers instead. It was but a short and simple step for the respondent to have confirmed what the real reason for denying Ms Tan permission was by being candid with the respective prison officers, but he refused to do so: at [53] to [56] and [60].

(4) The respondent's conduct impacted adversely on the public interest and seriously undermined the integrity of the system of justice founded on two key institutions, iethe legal profession and the prison system, which were relevant here. This was the first case of its kind to come before the court and such conduct had to be nipped in the bud: at [63] to [65].

(5) Whilst the absence of material gain was a mitigating factor, it could not exonerate the respondent from the fact that he had clearly contravened the rule and, more significantly, had misled the prison authorities. The ends could never justify improper and unethical means: at [76].

(6) It had not been clearly established that the respondent was dishonest, although he was at least guilty of conduct that fell below that which was expected from a member of an honourable profession. Looked at in this light, it did not appear that, notwithstanding the gravity of the situation, the respondent ought to be struck off the roll: at [77].

(7) Notwithstanding the respondent's lack of wisdom and probable recklessness in this particular instance, his otherwise unblemished record suggested that he could still contribute as a legal practitioner: at [82].

(8) However, it was clear that the sanction of a mere censure would have been patently inadequate in the circumstances of this case. A period of suspension from practice was an appropriate sanction to administer, taking into account all the circumstances of the case: at [84].

[Observation: This was one of the first cases of its kind in Singapore. Any similar transgressions in the future would be dealt with more severely: at [88].]

Andrew Phang Boon Leong JC

(delivering the judgment of the court):

Introduction

1 The present case involves a charge against the respondent pursuant to s 83 (2) (h) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2001 Rev Ed) (“LPA”). The charge itself, as formulated by the Law Society of Singapore (“the Law Society”), reads as follows:

Charge

That Ong Ying Ping [the respondent] is guilty of 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 Legal Profession Act (Chapter 161) in that he on [10th] October 2001 at Queenstown Remand Prison did fail to disclose that one Ms Tan Teck Cheng Linda is related to the prisoner he was interviewing, Ivan Ng Chin Hoe and misled the prison officers to believe that she was his assistant.

2 Section 83 of the LPA itself reads as follows:

Power to strike off roll or suspend or censure

83.– (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.

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

    1. (a) has been convicted of a criminal offence, implying a defect of character which makes him unfit for his profession;

    2. (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...

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2 books & journal articles
  • Legal Profession
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2010, December 2010
    • 1 December 2010
    ...20.16 The dubious distinction between ends and means is not unprecedented. It is traceable to Law Society of Singapore v Ong Ying Ping [2005] 3 SLR(R) 583 (‘Ong Ying Ping’) where it was rejected but the respondent sought to revive it, arguing that though the means were unlawful, the ends we......
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    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2005, December 2005
    • 1 December 2005
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