Narindar Singh Kang v Law Society of Singapore

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeBelinda Ang Saw Ean J
Judgment Date07 September 2007
Neutral Citation[2007] SGHC 145
Citation[2007] SGHC 145
Subject MatterGrounds for application for restoration to roll,Professional conduct,Legal Profession,Whether lawyer fit to have name restored on roll,Lawyer previously convicted for corruption,Section 102 Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2001 Rev Ed),Application made ten years from date of striking-off order,Lawyer applying for reinstatement on roll of advocates and solicitors
Defendant CounselValerie Thean (Attorney-General's Chambers),Sharmini Yogarajah (Haridass Ho & Partners)
Plaintiff CounselPeter Cuthbert Low (Peter Low Partnership)
Published date13 September 2007
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 535 of 2007
Date07 September 2007

7 September 2007

Andrew Phang Boon Leong JA (delivering the grounds of decision of the court):

1 This was an application by Narindar Singh Kang (“the Applicant”) pursuant to s 102 of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2001 Rev Ed) (“the Act”) to be reinstated to the roll of advocates and solicitors of the Supreme Court of Singapore (“the roll”). The Applicant had been struck off the roll on 3 October 1997 as a result of his conviction under the Prevention of Corruption Act (Cap 241, 1993 Rev Ed) (“PCA”) which fell within the meaning of s 83(2)(a) of the Act. We dismissed the application as being premature, and now give the detailed grounds for our decision.

The facts

2 The Applicant was called to the Bar on 9 April 1975. After completing his pupillage, he worked for six years in the Singapore Police Force. When he left in April 1981, he was holding the rank of Probationary Assistant Superintendent of Police. He then joined a law firm as a legal assistant in May 1981. In October 1981, he started his own legal practice under the name M/s N S Kang.

Events leading to the Applicant’s striking off

3 The Applicant was an advocate and solicitor of some 14 years’ standing when he was convicted on 15 December 1995 on the following charge:

You, Narinder Singh s/o Malagar Singh, M/45 years, NRIC No S2000696Z, are charged that you in conjunction with one Hartej Singh Sidhu, a condemned prisoner, on 18 May 1995, at or about 5 pm, at Changi Prison, Changi Road, Singapore, did corruptly solicit for the family of the said Hartej Singh Sidhu, a gratification, to wit, a sum of $100,000/- from one Baldev Singh, the son of another condemned prisoner, Sarjit Singh s/o Anokh Singh, on account of Hartej Singh Sidhu exonerating the said Sarjit Singh s/o Anokh Singh by his signed statement, to wit,

“I, Hartej Singh Sidhu c/o Changi Prison Cond No. 476/93 hereby state that Sarjit Singh c/o Changi Prison Cond No. 477/93 is innocent and was not involved in the drug trafficking transaction. The transaction was done by me solely.”

of any complicity in the drug trafficking transaction concerned in Criminal Case No. 52 of 1991 and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 5(a)(i) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, Chapter 241.

4 The Applicant had been assigned to act as counsel for one Hartej Singh Sidhu (“Hartej”) who appealed against his conviction on two charges of drug trafficking. Hartej had been convicted together with a second accused, Sarjit Singh s/o Anokh Singh (“Sarjit”), and both were sentenced to death on 21 January 1993. Another counsel, Mr N K Rajah (“Rajah”) was assigned to represent Sarjit.

5 On 18 May 1995, the day before Hartej and Sarjit were to be executed, the Applicant and Rajah went to Changi Prison to see their clients respectively at the request of Sarjit’s relatives who were hopeful that Hartej would make a confession which would save Sarjit from execution. Hartej initially refused to make a confession. However, he later signed a confession drafted by Rajah and handed it to the Applicant. Both lawyers then left Changi Prison along with Sarjit’s relatives. At the waiting area outside the main gate of Changi Prison, the Applicant told Rajah and Mr Baldev Singh (“Baldev”), who was Sarjit’s son, that his instruction from Hartej was not to hand over the confession until a sum of $100,000 was paid to Hartej’s family. Baldev asked if there was any guarantee that the confession would save his father’s life. However, Rajah dissuaded him from accepting the offer, telling him that it would not save his father because of the other evidence which had been adduced against Sarjit at his trial.

6 On the same evening, Baldev visited the Applicant in his office to seek his help in staying the execution. The Applicant asked if Baldev’s family had agreed to meet Hartej’s demand. He informed Baldev that there was no guarantee that the confession would save Sarjit from execution and suggested that Baldev contact Rajah for help. They were unable to contact Rajah and Baldev eventually left the Applicant’s office without the confession.

7 Rajah, after some consultation with his senior partner, decided to write to the Law Society of Singapore (“the Law Society”) about this incident. As a result of investigations ensuing thereafter, the Applicant was charged with and subsequently convicted under s 5(a) of the PCA. He was initially sentenced to five months’ imprisonment. His appeal against the conviction and sentence was dismissed. His sentence was enhanced to 12 months’ imprisonment by Yong Pung How CJ (see Narindar Singh v PP [1996] 3 SLR 639). In particular, the following observations by Yong CJ (at 655–656, [59]–[60]) are particularly apposite in so far as they encapsulate the seriousness of the offence committed by a lawyer who, because of his seniority, ought in fact to have known better:

It was further argued that any attempt to influence the President by using Hartej’s confession would probably have failed anyway. I have said earlier that I do not think this is relevant. The harm to our justice system was done as soon as the appellant asked Baldev to pay for the confession. It is of no mitigating value to say that he did not really expect anyone to take the confession seriously.

Finally, it was said that the appellant had already suffered grave, possibly irreparable, damage to his career; and accordingly, whilst the court might wish to send a message to other lawyers minded to act as the appellant had done, a heavy fine would suffice to give these lawyers the necessary warning. I have considered the facts of this case very carefully; and, in my view, a fine would be manifestly inadequate. As a senior member of the Bar and a former police officer, the appellant should have been all the more keenly aware of the need to guard against any abuse of our justice system. I find his conduct shocking and reprehensible. Indeed, having regard to all relevant circumstances, the sentence of five months’ imprisonment was manifestly inadequate. I note that in PP v Datuk Haji Harun bin Haji Idris [No 2 [1977] 1 MLJ 15], for example, the accused, who was a senior political leader convicted of three charges of corruption, received an aggregate custodial sentence of two years. I am of the view that this is a case where the court should exercise its powers under s 256 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68) to enhance the sentence. The appeal against sentence is accordingly dismissed; and the period of imprisonment imposed on the appellant is hereby enhanced to 12 months.

[emphasis added]

8 Thereafter, the Law Society applied by ex parte originating summons under s 94A of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 1994 Ed) (“the 1994 Act”)for an order that the Applicant be made to show cause why he should not be dealt with under s 83 of the 1994 Act. At the show cause hearing before the court of three judges, M Karthigesu JA, when delivering the grounds of decision of the court, found that the Applicant’s “willingness to assist Hartej in essentially getting a bribe in return for a confession implied a defect of character which made him unfit to be a solicitor” (see Law Society of Singapore v Narindar Singh s/o Malagar Singh [1998] 1 SLR 328 at [13]). Karthigesu JA stated that “such conduct was inimical to the administration of justice, by tilting the balance in favour of those who can afford to pay for evidence” (at [17]). Striking the Applicant off the roll was, thus, the only suitable penalty in this case.

State of affairs after the Applicant was struck off

9 After the Applicant was struck off on 3 October 1997, his wife who was also a practising advocate and solicitor since 1979, took over his practice and has since run the firm for the past ten years. After his release from prison in the middle of 1997, the Applicant dabbled in some business ventures with friends, albeit unsuccessfully. In 2000, he started work as a legal consultant for a shipping company, M/s Kim An Shipping Co Pte Ltd (“Kim An”). In early 2002, he left them and joined M/s Sunrise & Co Pte Ltd, a sports company (“Sunrise”) where his job scope was similar to that at Kim An. As he had to undergo a coronary bypass operation in April 2003, he was incapacitated over the next three months. He left Sunrise and returned to Kim An on a part-time basis. In 2005, Kim An relocated to Thailand and the Applicant decided to start a small trading company which is still in operation today.

The Applicant’s submissions

10 The Applicant submitted that it had been almost 11 years since he had ceased practice and almost ten years since his name had been removed from the roll. He had served his imprisonment sentence of 12 months and, since then, had not committed any other offence. He had fully reformed, rehabilitated and was a person of good character. It was highly unlikely that he would re-offend. He stated that the consequences that he had to face made it an unforgettable lesson. Additionally, he provided seven testimonials in his affidavit in support of his application that he was a person of integrity, was trustworthy and had reformed. Four of the testimonials were from lawyers, including two Senior Counsel.

11 The Applicant explained his actions on 18 May 1995 as follows. He asserted that he was merely carrying out the final instructions of an assigned client who was to be hanged on the very next day. His conduct, or rather, misconduct, was not pre-planned and premeditated but occurred very much on the spur of the moment. He expressed regret at not being able to apply his mind to the situation at hand and for making such a gross error of judgment.

The Attorney-General’s objections

12 The Attorney-General objected to the Applicant’s application for restoration to the roll. The Attorney-General stated that the preservation of the honour of the legal profession and public protection was paramount. In the Applicant’s case, his previous offence “went to the heart of the...

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