Law Society of Singapore v CNH

JudgeSundaresh Menon CJ
Judgment Date19 May 2022
Neutral Citation[2022] SGHC 114
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 3 of 2021
Published date24 May 2022
Hearing Date03 March 2022
Plaintiff CounselRamesh s/o Selvaraj and Afzal Ali (Allen & Gledhill LLP)
Defendant CounselThe respondent not attending and unrepresented.
Subject MatterLegal Profession,Disciplinary proceedings
Citation[2022] SGHC 114
Sundaresh Menon CJ (delivering the judgment of the court): Introduction

C3J/OS 3/2021 (“OS 3”) is an application by the Law Society of Singapore (the “Law Society”) for the respondent to suffer punishment as provided for under s 83(1) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2009 Rev Ed) (“LPA”). The Law Society seeks a suspension for a period of 3½ to 5 years. The respondent did not appear at any stage of the proceedings before us.

By way of background, on 8 June 2020, the respondent pleaded guilty (“PG”) to two charges in the State Courts of insulting the modesty of a victim (“V”) and consented to having two other charges taken into consideration (“TIC”) for the purposes of sentencing. The respondent was sentenced to four weeks’ imprisonment. A disciplinary tribunal (“DT”) was convened on 3 September 2020, to formally investigate two charges preferred against the respondent under s 83(2)(h) of the LPA. We summarise the charges against the respondent in the following table:

Date of offences Summary of charges in the State Courts Summary of charges preferred by the Law Society
April 2017 3rd Charge: Took photographs of V’s chest and brassiere (PG) The respondent intentionally used his handphone to take photographs of V’s chest and brassiere and panties without her consent
4th Charge: Took photographs of V’s panties (TIC)
11 October 2017 1st Charge: Pressed thigh against V’s upper arm (TIC) The respondent intentionally used his handphone to take photographs of V’s panties without her consent and pressed his thigh against her upper arm
2nd Charge: Took photographs of V’s panties (PG)

On 8 February 2021, the DT found that both disciplinary charges were made out, and that there was cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action pursuant to s 93(1)(c) of the LPA. The Law Society filed OS 3 on 8 March 2021. On 6 September 2021, we made an order for substituted service of certain documents on the respondent. The respondent had been absent in the proceedings before the DT and, as we have noted, he also did not appear before us either at the hearing of the Law Society’s application for substituted service or at the substantive hearing of OS 3.

Having considered the evidence and the Law Society’s submissions, we order that the respondent be struck off the roll of advocates and solicitors. In this regard, we refer to the sentencing framework we have set out in Law Society of Singapore v Seow Theng Beng Samuel [2022] SGHC 112 at [41] (“Samuel Seow”), which we also apply to the present case (see [51] below).


The respondent was admitted to the roll of advocates and solicitors on 27 August 2016. At the time of the offences, he was a legal associate at a local law firm (the “First Law Firm”). He was 26 years old at the time of the offences in April 2017, and 27 years old at the time of the offences in October 2017. The respondent resigned from the First Law Firm with effect from 16 November 2017, and started work at another local law firm (the “Second Law Firm”) soon after. However, according to his mitigation plea in the criminal proceedings, he left that job after the matter was widely publicised in the media. Since January 2020, it is believed that the respondent has been working as an in-house legal counsel for a business in Indonesia.

At the time of the offences, V also was working at the First Law Firm, first as a trainee and later as a legal associate. She was in the same team as the respondent, and they initially shared the same open office space. V was 23 years old in April 2017, and 24 years old in October 2017.

Offences in April 2017

Sometime in April 2017, V, who was a trainee at the time, remained in the office of the First Law Firm till late to finish her work. Both the respondent and another person were also in the office and they went to V’s cubicle to have a conversation, after which they left V’s cubicle. At that time, the respondent was sharing a room with another lawyer, and no longer worked in the open office space with V. Shortly after, at about 8pm, the respondent returned to V’s cubicle alone. Knowing that V would be alone, he had decided to take some compromising photographs of V, ostensibly to ease his stressful state. V was seated facing her computer. The respondent approached V from behind and leaned over her on the pretext of reading her computer screen. V allowed the respondent to do so as she thought he was trying to get a closer look at her computer screen. The respondent asked V what she was working on, and she said she was working on a set of legal submissions.

The respondent then rested his body on the back rest of V’s chair. He could see her brassiere, which was exposed because the neckline of her dress was loose. He took the opportunity not only to keep looking at her brassiere through the loose neckline, but also to take some photographs of her chest and brassiere so that he could view these later. The respondent held his handphone in his right hand and positioned it downwards over V’s right shoulder. He then used his handphone to take several photographs of V’s chest and brassiere.

The respondent then went back to his room and viewed the photographs he had taken. He was sexually aroused and decided to take some more compromising photographs of V. A few minutes later, he returned to V’s cubicle and again asked her what she was working on, to which she repeated her earlier reply that she was working on a set of legal submissions. The respondent proceeded surreptitiously to take several photographs of V’s panties before leaving abruptly.

The respondent then returned to his room, where he viewed all the photographs he had taken of V before deleting them.

Offences in October 2017

On 11 October 2017, V, who by then was a legal associate in the First Law Firm, was having lunch alone in her room in the First Law Firm. At around 2.30pm, the respondent entered her room and closed the door behind him. He sat on the floor to V’s right while V sat at her desk.

The respondent struck up a conversation with V, asking her what she was eating. V then swivelled her chair to the right to face the respondent. V was wearing a dress that was slightly above knee level. When seated, the hem of her dress was at the mid-thigh level. The respondent saw that V’s legs were slightly apart and he could see in between them. He became sexually aroused and decided to take some upskirt photographs of V. The respondent was holding his handphone in his hand, and he pointed the camera lens in the direction of V’s thighs. V noticed this and swivelled her chair back to face her desk with her legs underneath it.

The respondent continued talking to V in order to get her to turn towards him again. He asked if he could see what she was having for lunch. V then swivelled her chair towards him and showed him her lunch. Her legs were directly in front of the respondent, and the respondent was still holding on to his handphone with the camera lens facing V’s legs. V again swivelled back to face her desk.

The respondent again asked V to show him her lunch, and she swivelled her chair to face him once more. The respondent was still holding on to his handphone with the camera lens facing V’s legs.

During this sequence of events, the respondent took several photographs of V’s panties using his handphone.

When V crossed her legs, the respondent asked her whether it was painful for females to sit cross-legged for too long, and how long she could sit in that way. He then stood up and walked towards V’s desk. He rested his buttocks on her desk and struck up another conversation with V. He subsequently pressed his thigh against her upper arm. Thereafter, the respondent returned to his room to view the upskirt photographs he had taken of V, before deleting them.

V lodged a police report

About a month later, on 7 November 2017, V lodged a police report stating that a male colleague had outraged her modesty. On 15 November 2017, the respondent resigned from the First Law Firm.

According to V’s Victim Impact Statement in the criminal proceedings, after she reported the matter to the police, the respondent started contacting V with a view to getting her to withdraw her complaint against him. The respondent told V the case would hurt his mother who was very sick, and he even threatened to commit suicide. The respondent also shared his suicidal thoughts with some of their colleagues, intending that they convey this to V. The respondent also enlisted the help of their colleagues to let him know whether V was in the office, and to deliver letters to her on his behalf.

The respondent’s conviction and referral to the Law Society Victim Impact Statement

On 4 June 2020, V recorded a Victim Impact Statement, where she described the “immediate emotional effect” of the offences, the “emotional toll of proceeding” against the respondent, and “the longer-term emotional effect of the offences”. We reproduce the salient portions of her statement as follows:

[The immediate emotional effect of the offences]

…After realising what the accused had done to me, I was angry at the Accused for what he did. But I was more angry at the Accused for the way that he did it … This was one of my closest friends in the office, doing this to me repeatedly while always making a point to remind me that I was his best friend.

I was also angry at myself. From the very first incident in early-2017, I knew what the Accused had done to me. On the one hand I was sure of what had happened, but on the other hand I just could not believe it. So I felt that, in a way, I was responsible for letting this happen to me again. I hated myself for being so stupid and blind.

In the months immediately after the second incident, I found it very hard to block out my memories of the offences. … Some nights I would drift off for a moment, and...

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