Leow Kwee Huay v Public Accountants Oversight Committee

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeChoo Han Teck J
Judgment Date13 September 2016
Date13 September 2016
Docket NumberTribunal Appeal No 1 of 2016

[2016] SGHC 180

High Court

Choo Han Teck J

Tribunal Appeal No 1 of 2016

Leow Kwee Huay
and
Public Accountants Oversight Committee

Chia Jin Chong Daniel (Coleman Street Chambers LLC) for the appellant;

Lim Jen Hui (Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority) for the respondent.

Case(s) referred to

Law Society of Singapore v Kurubalan s/o Manickam Rengaraju [2013] 4 SLR 91 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Tham Yu Xian Rick [1999] 3 SLR(R) 68; [1999] 4 SLR 168 (refd)

Singapore Medical Council v Kwan Kah Yee [2015] 5 SLR 201 (refd)

Legislation referred to

Accountants Act (Cap 2, 2005 Rev Ed) s 52(2) (consd); ss 52(1)(a), 52(1)(c), 52(2)(a), 52(2)(b), 54(1)

Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed)

Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2014 Rev Ed) O 55 r 1, O 55 r 2

Professions — Accountants — Professional conduct — Accountant convicted of forgery offences — Whether cancellation of registration of public accountant was manifestly excessive — Section 52(2)(a) Accountants Act (Cap 2, 2005 Rev Ed)

Facts

This was an appeal against the decision of the respondent, the Public Accountants Oversight Committee (‘PAOC’), pursuant to s 52(2)(a) of the Accountants Act (Cap 2, 2005 Rev Ed) to cancel the appellant's registration as a public accountant. Two charges under s 52(1)(a) of the Accountants Act were brought against the appellant before the disciplinary committee for her criminal convictions for forgery. The appellant did not contest the charges. The disciplinary committee unanimously decided that the appropriate recommendation to the PAOC was a cancellation of the appellant's registration as a public accountant pursuant to s 52(2)(a) of the Accountants Act. The PAOC agreed with the disciplinary committee and issued an order to cancel the appellant's registration as a public accountant pursuant to s 52(2)(a) of the Accountants Act.

On appeal, the appellant contended that the PAOC's decision to cancel her registration as a public accountant was manifestly excessive. First, she submitted that the PAOC erred in giving insufficient weight to the special facts of this case. Secondly, the appellant argued that the PAOC erred in giving insufficient weight to the sentences imposed by the court in her criminal proceedings for forgery. Thirdly, the appellant submitted that the PAOC failed to consider the sentence imposed by the Disciplinary Committee of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (‘ACCA’) in their disciplinary proceedings. The ACCA punished the appellant with a severe reprimand and ordered her to pay cost of ?2,902 but it did not remove her from its Register of Members. Fourthly, the appellant argued that the PAOC erred in attaching too much weight to the fact of a conviction involving fraud or dishonesty or moral turpitude without sufficiently considering the sentencing options available under s 52(2) of the Accountants Act. Finally, the appellant submitted that the sentence was not consistent with other precedents dealing with acts of misconduct by professionals that were of equivalent severity.

Counsel for the respondent submitted that the cancellation was not manifestly excessive and should be upheld. Counsel for the respondent submitted that there were no compelling mitigating factors in this case, the sentence imposed in the criminal proceedings and the censure by ACCA were not relevant in the proceedings before the PAOC and there was no misapprehension of misdirection of facts by the PAOC. Counsel for the respondent therefore submitted that the sentence imposed was appropriate in the light of the legislative intent of the Accountants Act, the precedent cases and the aggravating factors.

Held, allowing the appeal:

(1) The present appeal was by way of rehearing and the High Court had broad powers over the decision of the PAOC. The right of appeal to the High Court was provided by s 54(1) of the Accountants Act. Order 55 rr 1 and 2 of the Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2014 Rev Ed), which applied to such appeals from disciplinary committees, provided that such an appeal ‘shall be by way of rehearing’: at [12].

(2) The level of integrity and honesty of the accountant as well as the manner in which the offences were committed were significant factors in sentencing in disciplinary proceedings. The absence or lack of damage was not necessarily a major consideration because it might not accurately represent the extent of lapse in integrity or honesty of an errant accountant. Nevertheless, substantial harm to victims or the public would justify a more severe sentence: at [14].

(3) The appellant was dishonest when she signed on audited financial statements knowing that she did not have the proper authorisation to do so. The district judge found that there was indeed some monetary loss to the appellant's client and a loss of earnings caused to Er & Co: at [15].

(4) The ACCA's decision was relevant but the appellant could not rely on it wholly or without qualification in support of her claim that the punishment determined by the PAOC was manifestly excessive. What was relevant was that the ACCA believed that there was room for some compassion for the appellant on the facts: at [16].

(5) The cases cited on dishonesty from other...

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