Law Society of Singapore v CNH

JudgeSundaresh Menon CJ,Andrew Phang Boon Leong JCA,Steven Chong JCA
Judgment Date19 May 2022
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 3 of 2021
Law Society of Singapore

[2022] SGHC 114

Sundaresh Menon CJ, Andrew Phang Boon Leong JCA and Steven Chong JCA

Originating Summons No 3 of 2021

Court of Three Judges

Legal Profession — Disciplinary proceedings — Respondent solicitor pleading guilty to taking photographs of his colleague's chest, brassiere and panties — Respondent sentenced to four weeks' imprisonment — Respondent failing to appear in subsequent disciplinary proceedings — Whether disciplinary proceedings could proceed in respondent's absence — Whether due cause for disciplinary action established — Whether respondent's misconduct attested to character defects rendering respondent unfit to be member of legal profession — Whether respondent's misconduct caused grave dishonour to standing of legal profession — Whether there were any mitigating factors — Whether respondent's lack of seniority warranted lower sanction — Whether respondent's punishment in criminal proceedings could be taken into account in determining appropriate disciplinary sanction

Held, granting the application and striking the respondent off the roll:

(1) OS 3 could be heard and determined notwithstanding the respondent's absence, pursuant to s 104 of the LPA. The court had made an order for substituted service on the respondent and, in accordance with this order, service had been effected and proof of service provided by affidavit: at [40] and [41].

(2) Due cause for disciplinary action under s 83(2)(h) of the LPA had been established. Based on r 23(1) of the Legal Profession (Disciplinary Tribunal) Rules (2010 Rev Ed), the DT was entitled to accept the documents tendered in the respondent's criminal proceedings – including the Statement of Facts and the Certificate of Conviction – as evidence of the facts stated therein and was thus entitled to find that the facts underlying the charges preferred by the Law Society were made out. The respondent's misconduct plainly fell within s 83(2)(h) of the LPA: at [48] and [50].

(3) The respondent's misconduct attested to character defects rendering the respondent unfit to be a member of the legal profession. First, the respondent's conduct was premeditated and persistent. Second, the respondent had pressured V to “drop the case” against him, which reflected his cynical and exploitative attitude towards V. Third, the respondent had abused V's trust in him as a close friend and as a colleague. Fourth, the respondent's failure to plead guilty at an early stage evinced a lack of remorse. Further, as a lawyer himself, the respondent knew, or at least ought to have known, that the prolonged delay would have caused emotional stress and anxiety to V. Finally, the respondent's complete absence from the proceedings before the DT and before the court underscored the utter lack of remorse on his part: at [53], [54], [58], [59], [62], [63], [65] and [66].

(4) The respondent's misconduct had also caused grave dishonour to the standing of the legal profession. First, the conduct in question was egregious and would besmirch the reputation of the legal profession if the respondent were allowed to remain on the roll. Second, the respondent had committed these offences in the workplace against his colleague, which sullied the expectation that colleagues would not abuse or violate one another: at [69] and [70].

(5) There were no mitigating factors in the present case. The respondent had totally ignored the proceedings and had not sought to mount any attempt at mitigation: at [71].

(6) The court did not accept the Law Society's submission that a lower sanction might be warranted in this case than in Law Society of Singapore v Ismail bin Atan[2017] 5 SLR 746 just because the errant solicitor in that case was a senior lawyer of about 20 years' standing and stood in a supervisory position in relation to the victim, while the respondent in the present case was a fellow junior lawyer in the same team as V. While seniority was relevant as an aggravating factor, absence of an aggravating factor was not a mitigating factor. That being said, the fact that an errant solicitor was relatively junior could be mitigating if such inexperience explained or mitigated the misconduct. In the present case, however, there was no nexus between the respondent's inexperience and his misconduct: at [75] to [77].

(7) The court did not accept the Law Society's submission that the respondent had already been punished in the criminal proceedings with four weeks' imprisonment, and that this could be taken into consideration by the court in determining the appropriate disciplinary sanction. First, taking account of factors extrinsic to an offender had nothing to do with the sentencing objectives that the disciplinary court was obliged to consider, and was likely to undermine the functioning of disciplinary proceedings as it would result in the more favourable treatment of certain individuals. Second, the concerns articulated in the criminal case of M Raveendran v PP[2022] 3 SLR 1183 equally applied in the disciplinary context – it was impossible for the court to place a value on downstream consequences like criminal sanctions and to translate this into an appropriate reduction in sentence in disciplinary proceedings, and the different potential criminal consequences that could be faced by offenders could not meaningfully be compared. Finally, it was not the business of the disciplinary court to impose a more lenient disciplinary sanction to indirectly alleviate the consequences and severity of any criminal proceedings, or to attempt to influence how the offender might be punished under the criminal law: at [78], [85] and [86].

Case(s) referred to

Chiong Chin May Selena v AG [2021] 5 SLR 957 (refd)

Choy Chee Yean v Law Society of Singapore [2020] 3 SLR 1268 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Chia Choon Yang [2018] 5 SLR 1068 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v CNH [2022] 3 SLR 777 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Dhanwant Singh [2020] 4 SLR 736 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Heng Guan Hong Geoffrey [1999] 3 SLR(R) 966; [2000] 1 SLR 361 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Ismail bin Atan [2017] 5 SLR 746 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Loh Wai Mun Daniel [2004] 2 SLR(R) 261; [2004] 2 SLR 261 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Ng Chee Sing [2000] 1 SLR(R) 466; [2000] 2 SLR 165 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Rasif David [2008] 2 SLR(R) 955; [2008] 2 SLR 955 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Ravi Madasamy [2007] 2 SLR(R) 300; [2007] 2 SLR 300, HC (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Ravi s/o Madasamy [2016] 5 SLR 1141, HC (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Seow Theng Beng Samuel [2022] SGHC 112 (folld)

Law Society of Singapore v Tay Eng Kwee Edwin [2007] 4 SLR(R) 171; [2007] 4 SLR 171 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Udeh Kumar s/o Sethuraju [2017] 4 SLR 1369 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Wong Sin Yee [2003] 3 SLR(R) 209; [2003] 3 SLR 209, HC (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Wong Sin Yee [2018] 5 SLR 1261, HC (refd)

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

Loh Der Ming Andrew v Koh Tien Hua [2022] 3 SLR 1417 (refd)

M Raveendran v PP [2022] 3 SLR 1183 (refd)

Stansilas Fabian Kester v PP [2017] 5 SLR 755 (refd)


The respondent solicitor (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”). The victim (“V”) was also working at the First Law Firm, first as a trainee and later as a legal associate.

Sometime in April 2017, in the office of the First Law Firm, the respondent leaned over V on the pretext of reading her computer screen. He took the opportunity to look at her brassiere through her neckline and to take some photographs of V's chest and brassiere using his handphone. After viewing the photographs in his room, he returned to V's cubicle and 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.

On 11 October 2017, V 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 swivelled her chair to the right to face the respondent, and during their conversation, he 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. The respondent then stood up and walked towards V's desk, 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 on 7 November 2017, and the respondent resigned from the First Law Firm on 15 November 2017. On 8 June 2020, the respondent pleaded guilty to and was convicted of two charges of insulting V's modesty by taking photographs of her chest, brassiere and panties. The respondent also consented to having one charge of taking photographs of V's panties and one charge of pressing his thigh against V's upper arm taken into consideration for the purposes of sentencing. He was sentenced to four weeks' imprisonment.

On 16 June 2020, the Attorney-General referred the respondent to the Law Society of Singapore (“Law Society”) pursuant to s 85(3) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2009 Rev Ed) (the “LPA”). The Law Society preferred two charges against the respondent, based on the charges in the criminal proceedings, and informed the respondent by e-mail that it would be applying...

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