Law Society of Singapore v Wee Wei Fen

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeChao Hick Tin JA
Judgment Date06 October 1999
Neutral Citation[1999] SGHC 263
Citation[1999] SGHC 263
Plaintiff CounselTan Cheng Yew (Tan Cheng Yew & Partners)
Published date19 September 2003
Date06 October 1999
Defendant CounselSubhas Anandan (MPD Nair & Co)
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 850 of 1999
Subject MatterLegal Profession,Principles applicable and paramount considerations,ss 83(1), 83(2)(a) & 94A Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 1994 Ed),Functions of disciplinary action,Show cause action,Appropriate penalty,Respondent convicted of forgery and cheating under Penal Code (Cap 224)

(delivering the grounds of judgment of the court): This was an application under s 98(5) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161) (`the LPA`) to make absolute an order to show cause. The order was made pursuant to s 94A of the LPA upon the respondent`s conviction in the subordinate courts of one count of cheating and two counts of forgery.

The facts

The respondent is an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore of some six years` standing, having been called to the Bar on 14 April 1993. At all material times, she was practising as a legal assistant in the law firm of M/s Quahe Tan & Partners (`the firm`).

On 9 April 1998, a complaint from one Tan Seck Sam, a partner of the firm, was referred to the Commercial Affairs Department (`the CAD`) by the Criminal Investigation Department, which complaint alleged the commission of various offences of forgery and cheating by the respondent.

After investigations by the CAD were completed, a total of 13 charges were brought against the respondent in the district court. Four of those charges related to various instances of forgery by the respondent while the remaining nine charges were for separate counts of cheating. At the hearing, the prosecution proceeded on two charges of forgery and one charge of cheating and applied for the other ten charges to be stood down.

The first charge

The first charge of forgery arose out of the following facts. The firm had been instructed to act for Mitsui Marine & Fire Insurance (Asia) Pte Ltd (`Mitsui`), who were the insurers of the defendants in DC Suit No 4436 of 1996. That suit involved an accident claim by the plaintiff who was represented by one Lee Mong Jen of M/s Leong Chua & Wong. The respondent was assigned to act for the defendants Mitsui.

On 11 September 1997, the respondent consented to a settlement of DC Suit No 4436 of 1996 without obtaining the mandate of Mitsui. Pursuant to the settlement, Mitsui was required to pay the settlement sum of $26,163.67 to the plaintiff via the Public Trustee.

On 21 October 1997, Lee Mong Jen sent a letter to the firm requesting them to remit the settlement sum to the Public Trustee. Throughout the next three months or so, nothing was done about this despite the fact that several chasers were sent to the firm requesting for payment.

On 21 January 1998, Lee Mong Jen received a faxed letter from the respondent dated 16 January 1998 stating that payment of the settlement sum had been effected to the Public Trustee via a cheque.

On 23 February 1998, Lee Mong Jen telephoned the respondent and requested for a copy of the cheque that was referred to in her letter of 16 January 1998. That same day, Lee Mong Jen received from the respondent a faxed copy of Sakura Bank cheque no 238290 purportedly issued by Mitsui in favour of the Public Trustee for a sum of $26,163.67 and dated 16 January 1998.

In the meantime, thinking that the settlement sum had already been forwarded to the Public Trustee, Lee Mong Jen wrote to the Public Trustee on 6 and 13 February 1999 asking for payment out. The Public Trustee reverted that he had not received any payment whatsoever in relation to this matter.

It later transpired that the copy of the cheque which had been faxed to Lee Mong Jen was a forgery. Investigations revealed that Sakura Bank cheque no 238290 had in fact been drawn on 17 November 1997 for a sum of $77,779.15 and paid to the Public Trustee by the firm in relation to an entirely different action Suit No 1168 of 1996. It turned out that the respondent had amended the relevant entries on the original cheque before faxing a copy of the forged document to Lee Mong Jen in the hope that he would stop chasing her for payment of the settlement sum. The respondent was unable to effect actual payment of the settlement sum as she had sat on the matter since September 1997 and had failed to obtain the mandate from Mitsui to settle the claim. Faced with mounting pressure from Lee Mong Jen to pay up, the respondent decided to fax him a forged copy of the cheque as proof that payment had been made to the Public Trustee when she knew full well that such was not the case.

Subsequently on 18 March 1998, Mitsui finally gave their mandate to settle Suit No 4436 of 1996 and the full amount was eventually paid out by the Public Trustee to the plaintiff via the firm.

The second charge

The facts relating to the second charge of forgery took place between September and October 1997. At or around that time, the respondent was instructed by one Cheong Soon Chong (`CSC`) and one Cheong Oi Meng (`COM`) to act for them in an application for an order of court under the Mental Disorder and Treatment Act (Cap 162) for a declaration that their mother, one Soh Wai Hin was of unsound mind and that both CSC and COM be appointed as the Committee of her affairs and estate. The court order was required by CSC in order that he could obtain a $40,000 cash grant for the purchase of a Housing and Development Board (`HDB`) flat.

Upon receiving her clients` instructions, the respondent sat on the matter and took no action whatsoever to obtain the said order of court. After repeated enquiries by CSC, the respondent finally handed him a copy of an order of court sometime during January 1998. This order of court was purportedly obtained in respect of OS 927/97 heard before Rajendran J and dated 4 December 1997. It also bore the words `sd Andy Yeo`, above the words `ASSISTANT REGISTRAR` at the end of the document. The respondent told CSC that this copy of the order of court could be used by him as the original one was still with the court.

Between late February and early March 1998, CSC, desiring to purchase an HDB flat in Bukit Purmei, was directed by the Housing and Development Board to furnish a certified true copy of the said order of court. In response to this, the respondent handed to CSC another copy of the order of court which she personally certified to be a true copy, and which now bore the signature of assistant...

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