Law Society of Singapore v Ang Chin Peng & another

CourtCourt of Three Judges (Singapore)
JudgeChao Hick Tin JA
Judgment Date26 November 2012
Neutral Citation[2012] SGHC 234
Citation[2012] SGHC 234
Hearing Date23 May 2012
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 74 of 2012
Published date29 November 2012
Plaintiff CounselDinesh Singh Dhillon and Ramesh s/o Selvaraj (Allen & Gledhill LLP)
Defendant CounselS Magintharan, Liew Boon Kwee James and B Uthayachanran (Essex LLC)
Subject MatterLegal Profession,Professional conduct,Grossly improper conduct
Chao Hick Tin JA (delivering the judgment of the court): Introduction

Originating Summons No 74 of 2012 is instituted by the Law Society of Singapore (“the Law Society”) pursuant to s 94(1) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2009 Rev Ed) (“the LPA”) praying that this court deal with the two respondents, ie, Ang Chin Peng (“the 1st Respondent”)_ and DeCruz Martin Francis (“the 2nd Respondent”) (collectively, “the Respondents”), in accordance with s 98(1) of the LPA, following the findings of the Disciplinary Tribunal (“the DT”) that the Respondents had committed grossly improper conduct by grossly overcharging their clients in respect of professional work relating to two estates, ie, the estate of Mr Quek Seng Kee (“Quek Estate”) and the estate of Madam Leong Siew Fong (“Leong Estate”) (collectively, “the two Estates”). The key question which this court has to address in this proceeding is whether the Respondents were guilty of grossly improper conduct by grossly overcharging when what they had charged to each estate was in accordance with an oral agreement reached with the executors and trustees of the respective estates.

The charges against the Respondents

The charges brought by the Law Society against the Respondents were identical. We will thus only set out the charges brought against the 1st Respondent:

1st Charge

You, Ang Chin Peng, an Advocate and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore and practising in the firm ALD LLP (formerly Ang & Lee), did charge the Executors and Trustees of the Estate of Quek Seng Kee (“QSK”), fees of S$53,000.00 and S$359,417.17 for services rendered by you as their solicitor in relation to the Estate of QSK, as evidenced by your invoices dated 14 December 1999, 13 September 2001 and 2 September 2004, which fees were far in excess of and disproportionate to what you were reasonably entitled to charge for the services you rendered, and such overcharging by you amounts to a breach of Rule 38 of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules and you have thereby breached a rule of conduct made by the Council under the provisions of the Legal Profession Act as amounts to grossly improper conduct in the discharge of your professional duty within the meaning of Section 83(2)(b) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap. 161).

Alternative 1st charge

You, Ang Chin Peng, an Advocate and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore and practising in the firm ALD LLP (formerly Ang & Lee), did charge the Executors and Trustees of the Estate of Quek Seng Kee, fees of S$53,000.00 and S$359,417.17 for services rendered by you as their solicitor in relation to the Estate of QSK, as evidenced by your invoices dated 14 December 1999, 13 September 2001 and 2 September 2004, which fees were far in excess of and disproportionate to what you were reasonably entitled to charge for the services you rendered, and such overcharging by you amounts to 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).

2nd Charge

You, Ang Chin Peng, an Advocate and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore and practising in the firm ALD LLP (formerly Ang & Lee), did charge the Executors and Trustees of the Estate of Leong Siew Fong (“LSF”), fees of S$52,631.14 and S$100,640.00 for services rendered by you as their solicitor in relation to the Estate of LSF, as evidenced by your invoices dated 7 March 2005 and 17 December 2007 respectively, which fees were far in excess of and disproportionate to what you were reasonably entitled to charge for the services you rendered, and such overcharging by you amounts to a breach of Rule 38 of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules and you have thereby breached a rule of conduct made by the Council under the provisions of the Legal Profession Act as amounts to grossly improper conduct in the discharge of your professional duty within the meaning of Section 83(2)(b) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap. 161).

Alternative 2nd charge

You, Ang Chin Peng, an Advocate and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore and practising in the firm ALD LLP (formerly Ang & Lee), did charge the Executors and Trustees of the Estate of Leong Siew Fong, fees of S$52,631.14 and S$100,640.00 for services rendered by you as their solicitor in relation to the Estate of LSF, as evidenced by your invoices dated 7 March 2005 and 17 December 2007 respectively, which fees were far in excess of and disproportionate to what you were reasonably entitled to charge for the services you rendered, and such overcharging by you amounts to 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).

Background facts

The 1st Respondent is an Advocate and Solicitor (for simplicity, hereinafter referred to as “Solicitor”) of 19 years’ standing and the 2nd Respondent of 21 years’. At all material times, the Respondents were partners of the firm Ang & Lee. Subsequently, Ang & Lee was reconstituted as ALD LLP. However, later on 22 July 2010, ALD LLP was dissolved.

The Quek Estate and the Leong Estate

Mr Quek Seng Kee died testate on 24November 1987, leaving behind an estate worth, at the time, around $3.7 million, made up mainly of stocks and shares in Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and London. The beneficiaries of the Quek Estate were his wife, Madam Leong Siew Fong (“Leong”), who was entitled to 35% of the residuary estate; his grandson, Quek Tsiu Weng (“the Complainant”), who was entitled to 30%; his adopted grandson, Goh Wee Hiong (“Goh”), who was entitled to 20% and his son Quek Chin Soon (“QCS”), who was entitled to 15%. The executors and trustees of the Quek Estate were Mr Kang Seow Kiam (“Kang”), who was a friend of Quek Seng Kee, and Mr Quek Chin Yick (“QCY”), Quek Seng Kee’s nephew.

In 1990, Kang and QCY engaged the law firm, Laycock & Ong (“Laycock”), to obtain the grant of probate for the Quek Estate. The 2nd Respondent, who was then a legal assistant at Laycock, worked on the file. He was assisted by a probate clerk, Mr KC Chng (“Chng”). Laycock performed various legal services for the Quek Estate, including, inter alia, applying and obtaining the grant of probate in 1991.

In 1999, the Quek Estate file was transferred from Laycock to Ang & Lee where the Respondents were practising. Given that Laycock had already extracted the grant of probate, the work which the Respondents rendered at Ang & Lee was mainly the following: arranging for the re-sealing of the grant of probate in the relevant foreign jurisdictions; engaging and dealing with solicitors and other service providers such as stock brokers in the relevant jurisdictions; realising the assets (mainly shares) in those foreign jurisdictions; and arranging for the distribution of the said assets to the beneficiaries as and when instructed. Notably, the Respondents were not instructed to administer the Quek Estate.

The fee agreement for the Quek Estate

In relation to the question of fees which the Respondents could charge for their professional services, the Respondents averred that they had an oral agreement with Kang and QCY, the executors and trustees of the Quek Estate, to fix the fees for the legal services provided by them at 5% of the gross value of the Quek Estate as at the date of the realisation of the assets. In this respect, the Complainant, the Law Society, and the DT had all accepted that there was such an oral agreement to that effect.1 The Respondents also claimed that the same fee arrangement was entered into previously while the Quek Estate’s file was handled by Laycock.

Leong passed away on 21 October 2001, while the Quek Estate was still being attended to by the Respondents. Kang and QCS were named in Leong’s will as the executors and trustees of the Leong’s estate (“the Leong Estate”). The beneficiaries under Leong’s will were the Complainant and Goh, who were also the main beneficiaries of the Quek Estate (see [4] above). The gross value of the Leong Estate was estimated at $3.1 million, which comprised mainly of Leong’s 35% share in the Quek Estate.

Kang passed away on 2 February 2004, leaving QCY as the sole executor and trustee of the Quek Estate. As regards the Leong Estate, the Complainant and Goh were appointed in place of Kang and they, together with QCS, continued to act as the executors and trustees of the Leong Estate.

On 2 September 2004, QCS, the Complainant and Goh (“the Trio”), met the Respondents to discuss the terms for engaging the latter for handling the Leong Estate. At the meeting, the Respondents proposed that the same fee arrangement as that for the Quek Estate be applied, ie, 5% of the gross value of the Leong Estate as at the date of the realisation of the assets. The Trio were not agreeable as they felt that there would be considerable overlap between the work to be done for the two Estates.2

On 8 September 2004, the Respondents wrote to the Trio, making the following representations that:3 the Respondents’ legal cost for acting in all estate matters was 5% of the gross value of the estate, and that this was taken from the Public Trustee’s guide of between 2% to 6% when acting in the administration of estates; a major consideration in their quotation of fees was the fact that the Respondents had a probate and estates team in place, with experience in the area of work of more than 30 years, and that they would be able to complete the handling of estates, both large and small, quickly,; there were not many firms that had the experience in handling estates like the Respondents’ firm. The Respondents also claimed that their proposed fees were compatible with those with the relevant experience; and as the Respondents had acted for the Quek Estate, most of...

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1 cases
  • Law Society of Singapore v Ang Chin Peng
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 26 November 2012
    ...Liew Boon Kwee James and B Uthayachanran (Essex LLC) for the first and second respondents. Abdul Rahim Rajudin, Re [1988] 2 SLR (R) 359 [2012] SGHC 234 High Court Chao Hick Tin JA , Andrew Phang Boon Leong JA and V K Rajah JA Originating Summons No 74 of 2012 Law Society of Singapore Plain......

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