Law Society of Singapore v Seow Theng Beng Samuel

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeSundaresh Menon CJ,Andrew Phang Boon Leong JCA,Steven Chong JCA
Judgment Date18 May 2022
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 4 of 2020
Law Society of Singapore
and
Seow Theng Beng Samuel

[2022] SGHC 112

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

Originating Summons No 4 of 2020

Court of Three Judges

Legal Profession — Disciplinary proceedings — Respondent solicitor pleading guilty to misconduct encompassing verbal and physical aggression against his employees — 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 respondent should be struck off roll

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

(1) There was due cause for disciplinary action against the respondent under s 83(2)(h) of the LPA. It was plain that a reasonable person would, without hesitation, say that as a solicitor he should not have done what he had done. His misconduct brought him discredit as a lawyer and brought discredit to the legal profession as a whole: at [31].

(2) The video footage capturing some of the instances of misconduct was more than sufficient to indicate that both abusive language and extremely unruly behaviour were involved. The respondent's position of authority would have necessitated a greater degree of decorum and professionalism, which he plainly failed to meet. The eight instances of misconduct were not isolated and aberrant incidents, but were instead part of a pattern of intemperate and boorish behaviour. The contemporaneous evidence also did not indicate any remorse on the respondent's part: at [16] to [19].

(3) The arguments raised by the respondent in mitigation of the seriousness of his misconduct were not borne out. While it was true that none of the victims sustained serious injury, it was not necessary for that to be the case for due cause to be made out. It was also no defence to argue that there was no evidence of a systemic problem of intemperate lawyers in the legal profession. Finally, there was little evidence that the respondent suffered from adjustment disorder at the time of his misconduct, much less that the disorder contributed to his actions: at [24] and [30].

(4) As for the issue of the appropriate sanction, the court had observed previously that even in cases not involving dishonesty, where a solicitor conducted himself in a way that fell below the required standards of integrity, probity and trustworthiness, and brought grave dishonour to the profession, he would be liable to be struck off. There were two distinct elements to this observation. For the first element of falling below the required standards of integrity, probity and trustworthiness, the core concern was one of character: did the solicitor in question have a defect of character that rendered him unfit to remain an advocate and solicitor, with all the duties and responsibilities that this entailed? The second element of bringing grave dishonour to the profession spoke to a different concern: in such a scenario, the errant legal practitioner could not be suffered to remain on the roll, and to continue bearing the implicit imprimatur of the profession and the courts. It followed that if the misconduct in question suggested either that the practitioner could not be trusted with the responsibilities of his profession, or that given the gravity of the misconduct, he should no longer bear the approval of the profession and of the courts, he should be struck off: at [36] to [40].

(5) Therefore, in considering whether a striking-off order was warranted in cases of misconduct not involving dishonesty or conflicts of interest, the court should consider whether the misconduct in question attested to any character defects rendering the solicitor unfit to be a member of the legal profession; and whether the solicitor, through his misconduct, had caused grave dishonour to the standing of the legal profession. If the answer to either question was “yes”, striking off would be the presumptive penalty. If the answer to both these questions was “no”, the court should proceed to examine the facts of the case closely to determine whether there were circumstances that nonetheless rendered a striking-off order appropriate: at [41].

(6) In the present case, the respondent's conduct had evinced such volatility and lack of self-control that it detracted from his ability to discharge his professional functions, demonstrating a character defect rendering him unfit to be a member of the legal profession. His conduct had also caused grave dishonour to the standing of the legal profession. The presumptive penalty was therefore striking off, and the mitigating factors raised by the respondent did not overcome this presumption. The respondent was therefore ordered to be struck off the roll: at [44] to [46] and [48].

Case(s) referred to

Law Society of Singapore, The v Leonard Anthony Netto [2005] SGDSC 14 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore, The v Looi Wan Hui [2014] SGDT 3 (refd)

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

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

Law Society of Singapore v Ezekiel Peter Latimer [2019] 4 SLR 1427 (refd)

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

Law Society of Singapore v Jasmine Gowrimani d/o Daniel [2010] 3 SLR 390 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Ravi s/o Madasamy [2015] 3 SLR 1187, HC (refd)

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

Law Society of Singapore v Ravindra Samuel [1999] 1 SLR(R) 266; [1999] 1 SLR 696 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Thirumurthy Ayernaar Pambayan [2022] SGHC 79 (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)

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

Seow Theng Beng Samuel v Law Society of Singapore [2022] 3 SLR 830 (refd)

Facts

The respondent was a solicitor of 20 years' standing. He was charged before a disciplinary tribunal under ss 83(2)(b)(i) and 83(2)(h) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2009 Rev Ed) (“LPA”), in relation to eight instances of misconduct against his employees. This misconduct included the throwing of objects in the general direction of the employees, verbal and physical aggression, and a threat to take a knife to kill one of the employees. The respondent pleaded guilty to the charges. The disciplinary tribunal found that there was cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action.

The Law Society of Singapore (“Law Society”) applied for the respondent to be sanctioned under s 83(1) of the LPA. It submitted that there was due cause for disciplinary action, and sought to have the respondent struck off the roll or, in the alternative, to have the respondent suspended from practice for a minimum of four years.

Legislation referred to

Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2009 Rev Ed) ss 71, 83(1), 83(2)(b), 83(2)(b)(i), 83(2)(h), 93(1)(c), 94(1), 98(1)

Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules 2015 r 8(3)(b)

Dhillon Dinesh Singh, Loong Tse ChuanandAlisa Toh Qian Wen (Dai Qianwen) (Allen & Gledhill LLP) for the applicant;

Pereira Edmond Avethas and Cheung Shu Jia Jessica (Edmond Pereira Law Corporation) for the respondent.

18 May 2022

Judgment reserved.

Sundaresh Menon CJ (delivering the judgment of the court):

Introduction

1 C3J/OS 4/2020 (“OS 4”) is an application by the Law Society of Singapore (the “Law Society”) for the respondent to be sanctioned under s 83(1) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2009 Rev Ed) (“LPA”), in relation to eight instances of misconduct against his employees. The respondent was charged in relation to these instances of misconduct before a disciplinary tribunal, which found that there was cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action.

2 Having heard the parties and having considered their submissions, we are satisfied that there is due cause for the respondent to be sanctioned, and that the appropriate sanction is for him to be struck off the roll of advocates and solicitors. In this judgment, we elaborate more generally on the considerations that warrant an order striking off a legal practitioner, and why the respondent has engaged those considerations.

Background

3 The respondent is a solicitor of 20 years' standing. At the material time, he was the Managing Director of Samuel Seow Law Corp (“SSLC”). He also owned and managed a talent management company known as Beam Artistes Pte Ltd (“Beam Artistes”), which shared the same office premises as SSLC.

4 The eight instances of misconduct which form the basis of the Law Society's application occurred in a one-month period running from 16 March 2018 to 17 April 2018. They may be summarised as follows:

(a) On 16 March 2018, at about 7.00pm, the respondent threw files and boxes on the floor in the general direction of one Ms Kang Pei Shan Rachel (“Ms Kang”), an employee of Beam Artistes, and screamed at Ms Kang (the subject of the “First Charge”).

(b) On 26 March 2018, sometime in the afternoon, the respondent threw a metal stapler on the floor in the general direction of Ms Kang (the subject of the “Second Charge”).

(c) On 28 March 2018, at about 3.00pm, the respondent threw a metal stapler on the floor in the general direction of Ms Kang (the subject of the “Third Charge”).

(d) On 28 March 2018, at about 9.00pm, the respondent shouted at Ms Kang, and advanced towards Ms Kang in an aggressive and/or threatening manner such that Ms Kang stumbled and fell to the floor (the subject of the “Fourth Charge”).

(e) On 3 April 2018, at about 8.00pm, the respondent repeatedly threw his wallet in the general direction of Ms Kang, and threatened to take a knife to kill...

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2 cases
  • Law Society of Singapore v Ravi s/o Madasamy
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 21 March 2023
    ...Society of Singapore v Ravindra Samuel [1999] 1 SLR(R) 266; [1999] 1 SLR 696 (refd) Law Society of Singapore v Seow Theng Beng Samuel [2022] 4 SLR 467 (refd) Law Society of Singapore v Tan Guat Neo Phyllis [2008] 2 SLR(R) 239; [2008] 2 SLR 239 (refd) Law Society of Singapore v Udeh Kumar s/......
  • Law Society of Singapore v Ravi s/o Madasamy
    • Singapore
    • 21 March 2023
    ...bin Atan [2017] 5 SLR 746 (“Ismail bin Atan”) at [21] and Ravindra Samuel at [15]. In Law Society of Singapore v Seow Theng Beng Samuel [2022] 4 SLR 467 (“Samuel Seow”), we clarified that “fall[ing] below the required standards of integrity, probity and trustworthiness” and “bring[ing] grav......

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