Law Society of Singapore v Tan Sok Ling

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Judgment Date23 March 2007
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 2154 of
Date23 March 2007
Law Society of Singapore
Plaintiff
and
Tan Sok Ling
Defendant

Chan Sek Keong CJ

,

Andrew Phang Boon Leong JA

and

Kan Ting Chiu J

Originating Summons No 2154 of 2006 (Summons No 5749 of 2006)

High Court

Legal Profession–Show cause action–Lawyer failing to pay moneys into client's account–Lawyer transferring moneys due to him from client's account to his firm's account resulting in overdrawn client's account–Whether lawyer's conduct contravening Legal Profession Act and warranting disciplinary action–Appropriate sentence where lawyer not acting dishonestly but out of gross inefficiency and incompetence–Section 83 (2) (j)Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2001 Rev Ed), rr 3, 7 Legal Profession (Solicitors' Accounts) Rules (Cap 161, R 8, 1999 Rev Ed)

The respondent was an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Singapore of about 14 years' standing. He faced 11 charges for breaches of the Legal Profession (Solicitors' Accounts) Rules (Cap 161, R 8, 1999 Rev Ed) (“the Solicitors' Accounts Rules”) within the meaning of s 83 (2) (j) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2001 Rev Ed) (“the Act”). Two charges related to breaches of r 3 of the Solicitors' Accounts Rules, while nine related to breaches of r 7 of the said Rules. He had admitted to all 11 charges and did not dispute the statement of facts.

The respondent's breaches in relation to the first five charges concerned moneys due to the respondent, transferred from the client's account to his firm's account when there was no balance in the client's account. These errors were rectified. The respondent's breaches in relation to the sixth and seventh charges concerned moneys not paid into the client's account. These moneys were reimbursed. The eighth charge concerned moneys due to the respondent, transferred from the client's account to his firm's account, resulting in $2,152 being overdrawn from the client's account and this error was also rectified. The respondent's breaches in relation to the ninth to eleventh charges concerned moneys due to the respondent, transferred from the relevant client's accounts to his firm's account on 12 November 2003. However, the respective amounts were only received from the said clients at later dates and the bills for those amounts were drawn at even later dates. Notably, the 11 breaches did not result in any loss to any client.

The disciplinary committee (“the DC”) found that the respondent was not “scrupulously diligent in keeping and maintaining proper accounts”. The DC noted that the respondent took several weeks to raise bills after the transfer from his client's account to the firm's account in relation to three of the r 7 breaches. The DC felt that there was no excuse for this undue delay. In respect of the other six breaches of r 7, the DC found that there was no indication as to when the reimbursements were received from the clients and when the bills, if any, were raised. In such circumstances, the DC did not accept that the breaches of r 7 were merely technical in nature and therefore found them grave enough to warrant show cause proceedings.

The DC found that a breach of r 3 of the Solicitors' Accounts Rules was a serious disciplinary offence and found that the respondent was delinquent in keeping and maintaining a proper client's account. As such, the DC found that there existed cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action against the respondent under s 83 of the Act on all 11 charges. An application was taken out by the Law Society of Singapore against the respondent to make absolute an order to show cause.

Held, granting the application and suspending the respondent from practice for one year:

(1) Prior decisions involving breaches of the Solicitors' Accounts Rules were distinguishable from the situation in the present proceedings. Whilst the respondent in the present proceedings was indeed remiss in not having a proper accounting structure and committed the breaches of the Solicitors' Accounts Rules as a result of gross inefficiency, there was clearly no evidence of dishonesty on his part. Indeed, none of the respondent's clients suffered any loss. The respondent was also genuinely remorseful and had pleaded guilty to the charges at the earliest opportunity: at [13] and [25].

(2) In so far as the spectrum of possible breaches of the Solicitors' Accounts Rules was concerned, the breaches here were on the less culpable end of the continuum despite the large number of charges. This was not to state that such breaches were, in principle,excusable or that the court was going soft on errant lawyers but it was essential to confine each case to its own factual matrix when assessing the appropriate sentence. Given that these breaches arose out of sheer incompetence, an ideal sentence was one that reflected the seriousness as well as the importance of observing the Solicitors' Accounts Rules whilst recognising that the respondent's actions did not constitute the grosser breaches that could have been committed: at [26] and [27].

[Observation: The Solicitors' Accounts Rules were undergirded by important concerns. Rule 3 of the Solicitors' Accounts Rules prescribed a mandatory requirement that the client's funds be placed into a separate account. The purpose of these rules was to protect the public and to instil public confidence in solicitors. It was settled law that failure to maintain the requisite financial and/or accounting records inevitably resulted in a finding of professional misconduct. It was immaterial that the inadvertence was not inspired by improper motives. However, the court could not ignore the fact that individual lawyers commit specific breaches in a large variety of circumstances. The court constantly held in tension the need to be fair on both general as well as specific levels and, hence, attempted its level best to balance the rights of the public with those of the individual in order to achieve fairness in both instances: at [19] to [22].]

Law Society of Singapore v Ahmad Khalis bin Abdul Ghani [2006] 4 SLR (R) 308; [2006] 4 SLR 308 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Chiong Chin May Selena [2005] 4 SLR (R) 320; [2005] 4 SLR 320 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Lim Yee Kai [2001] 1 SLR (R) 30; [2001] 1 SLR 721 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Ong Ying Ping [2005] 3 SLR (R) 583; [2005] 3 SLR 583 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Prem Singh [1999] 3 SLR (R) 126; [1999] 4 SLR 157 (refd)

Lim Kiap Khee, Re;Law Society of Singapore v Lim Kiap Khee [2001] 2 SLR (R) 398; [2001] 3 SLR 616 (refd)

Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2001 Rev Ed) s 83 (2) (j) (consd);ss 94 (1), 98

Legal Profession (Solicitors' Accounts) Rules (Cap 161, R 8, 1999 Rev Ed) rr 3, 7 (consd)

Suresh Damodara (David Lim & Partners) for the applicant

Respondent in person.

Andrew Phang Boon Leong JA

(delivering the grounds of decision of the court):

Introduction

1 This was an application by the Law Society of Singapore (“the Law Society”) pursuant to s 94 (1) read with s 98 of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2001 Rev Ed) (“the Act”) to make absolute an order to show cause. Having heard the submissions of the Law Society and those of the respondent in mitigation, we granted the application at the conclusion of the hearing...

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4 cases
  • Majlis Peguam Malaysia v Lim Yin Yin
    • Malaysia
    • Court of Appeal (Malaysia)
    • Invalid date
  • Law Society of Singapore v Tan Chwee Wan Allan
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 20 September 2007
    ......The solicitor was suspended for one year. In addition, an undertaking was secured from the solicitor to confirm that she would not resume practice as a sole proprietor thereafter without the leave of court. . 32     Law Society of Singapore v Tan Sok Ling [2007] 2 SLR 945 (“ Tan Sok Ling ”) concerned an advocate and solicitor of about 14 years’ standing. He had pleaded guilty to 11 charges involving breaches of rr 3 and 7 of the SA Rules and was suspended from practice for one year. In determining the appropriate penalty, this court ......
  • Law Society of Singapore v Tay Eng Kwee Edwin
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 30 July 2007
    ...Law Society of Singapore v Ravindra Samuel [1999] 1 SLR (R) 266; [1999] 1 SLR 696 (refd) Law Society of Singapore v Tan Sok Ling [2007] 2 SLR (R) 945; [2007] 2 SLR 945 (distd) Solicitor, In re A (1962) 3 MC 323 (refd) Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2001 Rev Ed)s 83 (2) (b) (consd);ss 72,74,......
  • The Law Society of Singapore v Tay Choon Leng, John
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 20 April 2012
    ...as “a serious breach of [the SA Rules]” (at [22]). In that case a two-year suspension was ordered. In Law Society v Tan Sok Ling [2007] 2 SLR(R) 945 (“Tan Sok Ling”) a one-year suspension was ordered as “the breaches here were on the less culpable end of the continuum” (at [26]). In Law Soc......

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