Law Society of Singapore v Vardan Vasantha Lakshmi

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeAndrew Ang J
Judgment Date08 November 2006
Neutral Citation[2006] SGHC 185
Citation[2006] SGHC 185
Subject MatterRule 25(b) Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules (Cap 161, R 1, 2000 Rev Ed),Professional conduct,Advocate and solicitor acting for homeowners and housing agent in transaction for sale of flat,Appropriate sentence for such misconduct where no evidence of dishonesty existing but absence of diligence and significant indifference to homeowners' interests displayed,Breach,Legal Profession,Whether advocate and solicitor breaching Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules by placing herself in position of conflict of interest and failing to adequately explain to homeowners significance of documents signed
Date08 November 2006
Published date09 November 2006
Defendant CounselC R Rajah SC (Tan Rajah & Cheah), Thangavelu (Rajah Velu & Co) and David Nayar (David Nayar and Vardan)
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 660 of 2006
Plaintiff CounselTan Tee Jim SC and Jiang Ke Yue (Lee & Lee)

8 November 2006

Judgment reserved.

Andrew Phang Boon Leong JA (delivering the judgment of the court):

Introduction

1 The respondent, Vasantha Lakshmi Vardan, is an advocate and solicitor of some 12 years’ standing, having been called to the Singapore Bar in 1994. At all material times, she was a partner in a law firm.

2 The respondent was introduced to Shaik Raheem s/o Abdul Shaik Shaikh Dawood (“Shaik”) by the respondent’s father in 1998. They had a regular working relationship in the sense that Shaik often recommended the respondent’s legal services to his clients. It was through such an arrangement that Ibrahim bin Hassan (“Ibrahim”) and Zaharah binte Ibrahim (“Zaharah”), a married couple (collectively, “the complainants”), came to know about the respondent.

3 Some time in June 1999, the complainants were looking to sell the flat they were residing in and purchase another one. Ibrahim was a little cash-strapped then as he needed money for the down payment for the purchase of a new flat. Abu Baker (“AB”) was Zaharah’s brother-in-law. AB was working in a realty firm and it was he who introduced Shaik to the complainants. AB told the complainants that they could obtain an interest-free “friendly” loan from Shaik in return for appointing Shaik as their exclusive housing agent in the sale of the flat. The complainants obtained an initial loan of $5,000 and agreed to the appointment.

4 AB then told the complainants that they could obtain additional interest-free loans from Shaik. At AB’s behest, Ibrahim approached Shaik for an additional loan of up to a total of $50,000. Shaik agreed to provide the loans but requested that the complainants sign a statutory declaration in relation to the loans (“the Statutory Declaration”). He also recommended the respondent’s services as a lawyer to Ibrahim to complete the conveyancing and loan transactions.

5 The complainants went to the respondent’s office on 21 June 1999 to sign documents relating to the purchase and sale of the flat and regarding the loan with Shaik. The pertinent documents were as follows:

(a) a warrant to act in the sale of the flat;

(b) a letter authorising the respondent to copy to Shaik all correspondence in relation to the sale of the flat;

(c) a warrant to act in relation to the Statutory Declaration;

(d) a deed of agreement indicating that $50,000 would be advanced from Shaik to the complainants (“the Deed of Agreement”).

(e) a letter authorising the Housing and Development Board (“HDB”) to pay the balance of the sale proceeds (after deducting moneys due to the HDB and refunding the appropriate moneys to the Central Provident Fund Board (“CPF Board”)) to the respondent’s firm;

(f) a letter irrevocably authorising the respondent to pay to Shaik (from the proceeds of sale of the flat) $50,000 in addition to 2% commission of the sale price of the flat, as well as to pay such further sums to Shaik which the complainants should confirm orally or in writing before or after completion of the sale of the flat; and

(g) a letter requesting the respondent’s firm to give an undertaking to Shaik for payment of the loan and commission from the proceeds of the sale of the flat (“the Request to Provide an Undertaking”).

6 That very same day, immediately after the documents had been signed, the respondent’s secretary, Jenny Lee (“Jenny”), brought the complainants to the office of a Commissioner for Oaths. There, they signed the Statutory Declaration before the said Commissioner, confirming that the loan of $50,000 had indeed been disbursed.

7 The flat was sold for $404,000. This meant that Shaik was entitled to $8,080 in commission. After the completion of the sale of the flat, the complainants were invited to the respondent’s office on 22 October 1999 to close the completion account. The account showed a deduction of $55,330 in payment to Shaik (and a further deduction of $2,209.43 in respect of the respondent’s bills of costs). The complainants signed the account, and authorised payment to Shaik.

8 The following year, in mid-2000, Ibrahim made a police report that Shaik had swindled him of money. In particular, in his police report, Ibrahim complained that Shaik had only lent him $25,000 but had, instead, deducted $55,330 from the sales proceeds of the flat. Shaik was subsequently charged and convicted on 25 April 2006 on four charges of cheating under s 420 of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 1985 Rev Ed) in relation to various loans, including that which was extended to the complainants (see PP v Shaik Raheem s/o Abdul Shaik Shaikh Dawood [2006] SGDC 86, where, it should be noted, the complainants did also appear to have acknowledged (at [26]) that, in addition to the $25,000 disbursed to them by Shaik by way of loan, Shaik was also entitled to a total of $10,130 by way of commissions). On 8 May 2001, the complainants lodged a complaint against the respondent to the Law Society – culminating in the present proceedings before this court.

The Disciplinary Committee proceedings

The charges

9 The first charge preferred against the respondent reads as follows:

That you, Vasantha Lakshmi Vardan, are charged that during the course of your retainer during or about the period between June 1999 and October 1999 as the solicitor for Mr. Ibrahim Bin Hassan and Mdm Zaharah Binte Ibrahim, you failed to advance the said client’s interests unaffected by any interest of any other person, by acting in the interest of Shaik Raheem and/or his firm, in contravention of Rule 25(b) of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules, such breach amounting to improper conduct or practice as an advocate and solicitor within the meaning of section 83(2)(b) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap. 161, Rev Ed 2001).

Rule 25(b) of the Legal Professional (Professional Conduct) Rules (Cap 161, R 1, 2000 Rev Ed) reads as follows:

During the course of a retainer, an advocate and solicitor shall advance the client’s interest unaffected by —

(b) any interest of any other person; …

10 The alternative charge preferred against the respondent reads as follows:

That you, Vasantha Lakshmi Vardan, are 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 (Cap. 161, Rev Ed 2001) by failing to advance the interests of your clients Mr. Ibrahim Bin Hassan and Mdm Zaharah Binte Ibrahim unaffected by any interest of any other person, by acting in the interest of Shaik Raheem and/or his firm.

11 Section 83 of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2001 Rev Ed) itself reads as follows:

(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 —

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

(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;

(c) has been adjudicated bankrupt and has been guilty of any of the acts or omissions mentioned in section 124 (5) (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (h), (i), (k), (l) or (m) of the Bankruptcy Act (Cap. 20);

(d) has tendered or given or consented to retention, out of any fee payable to him for his services, of any gratification for having procured the employment in any legal business of himself or any other advocate and solicitor;

(e) has, directly or indirectly, procured or attempted to procure the employment of himself or any advocate and solicitor through or by the instruction of any person to whom any remuneration for obtaining such employment has been given by him or agreed or promised to be so given;

(f) has accepted employment in any legal business through a person who has been proclaimed a tout under any written law relating thereto;

(g) allows any clerk or other unauthorised person to undertake or carry on legal business in his name, that other person not being under such direct and immediate control of his principal as to ensure that he does not act without proper supervision;

(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;

(i) carries on by himself or any person in his employment any trade, business or calling that detracts from the profession of law or is in any way incompatible with it, or is employed in any such trade, business or calling;

(j) has contravened any of the provisions of this Act in relation thereto if such contravention warrants disciplinary action; or

(k) has been disbarred, struck off, suspended or censured in his capacity as a legal practitioner by whatever name called in any other country.

(3) Pupils shall, with the necessary modifications, be subject to the same jurisdiction as can be exercised over advocates and solicitors under this Part; but in lieu of an order striking him off the roll or suspending him, an order may be made prohibiting the pupil from petitioning the court for admission until after a date specified in the order.

(4) The jurisdiction given by subsection (3) shall be exercised by a single Judge.

(5) In any proceedings under this Part, the court may in addition to the facts of the case take into account the past conduct of the person concerned in order to determine what order should be made.

(6) In any proceedings instituted under this Part against an advocate and solicitor consequent upon his conviction for a criminal offence, an Inquiry Committee, a Disciplinary Committee and a court of 3 Judges of the Supreme Court referred to in...

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4 books & journal articles
  • PROPORTIONALITY IN COSTS
    • Singapore
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