Narindar Singh Kang v Law Society of Singapore

JudgeChao Hick Tin JA
Judgment Date30 September 2013
Neutral Citation[2013] SGHC 195
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No. 298 of 2013
Published date11 October 2013
Hearing Date15 August 2013
Plaintiff CounselDavinder Singh SC, Pardeep Singh Khosa and Timothy Lin (Drew & Napier LLC)
Defendant CounselK Anparasan and Sim Hui Lin Christine (KhattarWong LLP),Jeffrey Chan Wah Teck SC and Dominic Zou
Subject MatterLegal Profession,Reinstatement,Interest of the Public
Citation[2013] SGHC 195
Chao Hick Tin JA (delivering the grounds of decision of the court): Introduction

This was an application by one Narindar Singh (“the Applicant”) for reinstatement onto the roll of advocates and solicitors of the Supreme Court (“the Roll”) pursuant to s 102(1) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2009 Rev Ed) (“the LPA”). He was struck off the Roll on 3 October 1997 for a conviction under s 5(a)(i) of the Prevention of Corruption Act (Cap 241, 1993 Rev Ed) (“the PCA”). Both the Attorney-General and the Law Society of Singapore (“the Law Society”) had no objection to the Applicant’s reinstatement onto the Roll, subject to certain conditions being imposed with which the Applicant was willing to comply. At the conclusion of the hearing, we allowed the application subject to certain additional conditions. These grounds are issued to explain, in particular, our rationale for the imposition of the additional conditions.

At this juncture we would pause to state that this was the Applicant’s second attempt at seeking reinstatement onto the Roll. His first unsuccessful attempt was made on 7 September 2007 (“the first application”), about 9 years and 11 months after he was struck off.

Cause for striking off

The Applicant is now 62 years of age. At the date he made this application he had been struck off the Roll for fifteen and a half years. He was admitted as an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court on 9 April 1975. The specific matter which led to him being struck off the Roll occurred when he was practising as a sole proprietor of his own law firm, M/s N S Kang, and was assigned by the Registrar of the Supreme Court to draft a petition for clemency for one of a pair of co-accused persons who had been jointly convicted and sentenced to suffer death for the offence of drug trafficking. His client’s petition for clemency was unsuccessful. The offensive conduct of the Applicant occurred on 18 May 1995, the day before his client was due to be executed. He was tried and convicted by the District Court in May 1996 for the offence of having solicited, on his client’s behalf, a gratification of S$100,000 from his client’s co-accused, in exchange for a confession that only the client was responsible for the trafficking (absolving any wrongdoing by the co-accused). The Applicant was sentenced to five months’ imprisonment for the offence. In sentencing the Applicant, the District Judge noted that the fact that he had previously been a police officer was an aggravating factor. His appeal to the High Court against conviction and sentence was not only dismissed, but the sentence imposed by the District Court was enhanced from five months to 12 months imprisonment. Chief Justice Yong Pung How noted that the Applicant’s conduct was “shocking and reprehensible” (see Narindar Singh s/o Malagar Singh v Public Prosecutor [1996] SGHC 233 at [60]).

Following his conviction and sentence, the Law Society applied under s 94A of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 1994 Rev Ed) for the Applicant to show cause why he should not be dealt with under s 83 of the same Act. The Applicant did not challenge the application of the Law Society and made no submission thereon and instead threw himself at the mercy of the court. The Court of Three Judges of the Supreme Court (“the Court of Three Judges”) found that the Applicant’s “willingness to assist [his client] in essentially getting a bribe in return for a confession implied a defect of character which made him unfit to be a solicitor” and that he had conducted himself in a fashion which “was inimical to the administration of justice, by tilting the balance in favour of those who can afford to pay for evidence”. However, the court noted that there was no evidence that the Applicant was to obtain any benefit for the transaction and that “it was possible” that he was “merely carrying out ... the last instructions of a condemned client” (Law Society of Singapore v Narinder Singh s/o Malagar Singh [1997] 3 SLR(R) 334 at [13] and [16]).

The period post striking off

After the Applicant’s release from prison in June 1997, he tried his hand at some businesses but they failed. For most of the time between 2000 and 2009, he worked as an employee, and in each instance he made full disclosure of his background to the employer: Between 2000 and 2002, he was employed as a legal advisor at a shipping company called M/s Kim An Shipping Co Pte Ltd (“Kim An”) where he was responsible for preparing and reviewing legal documents. He left because the work at Kim An was drying up; Between 2002 and 2003, he was a promotions manager at M/s Sunrise & Co Pte Ltd (“Sunrise”), a sports company that owns and represents certain brand trademarks. His scope of work included legal work relating to trademarks and sponsorship agreements; Between 2003 and 2005, he returned to Kim An until it relocated to Thailand in 2005; In 2005, he was self-employed in his own steel manufacturing and trade business; and Between 2006 and 2010, he worked as a housing agent, first with Huttons Asia and later with City Homes. However, he was not successful as a housing agent.

In August 2010, the Applicant decided to return to legal work. He said that none of the jobs listed in the preceding paragraph provided him with “the same level of job satisfaction that [he] had when [he] was practising law”.1 The Applicant thus applied under s 78(1) of the LPA for the High Court’s consent to work as a paralegal at the legal firm of M/s Kertar and Co (“Kertar & Co”). The managing solicitor at Kertar & Co, Mr Kertar Singh, was a former pupil of the Applicant and was apprised of the Applicant’s conviction and his being struck off the Roll.

On 7 September 2010, the Applicant was granted permission to work as a paralegal at Kertar & Co subject to certain restrictions as to his scope of work. The Applicant could assist lawyers in the firm provided always that any instructions, communications, or statements taken from any clients, witnesses and prosecution or other counsel be taken in the presence of the lawyers in the firm or through the lawyers of the law practice. Kertar & Co also undertook to ensure that the Applicant would not have any dealings with the firm’s money, whether in respect of client’s accounts, office accounts, or otherwise.

The Applicant is still employed at Kertar & Co. Two of his supervising solicitors had provided references in support of the present application by the Applicant for reinstatement onto the Roll.

The first application

At this juncture, we will refer briefly to the Applicant’s first application made on 7 September 2007 for reinstatement onto the Roll. The application was objected to by the Attorney-General. The Court of Three Judges gave the following reasons for rejecting the first application (found at Narindar Singh Kang v Law Society of Singapore [2007] 4 SLR(R) 641 (“Narindar Singh No 1”)): Reinstatement after 9 years and 6 months would not properly reflect the seriousness of the Applicant’s attempt to interfere with the administration of justice. Public confidence and the general reputation of the legal profession might be affected if a solicitor were to be reinstated so quickly after such a serious offence. It was felt that the application was premature (Narindar Singh (No 1) at [40], [48], [49] and [51]); The supporting references provided by the Applicant were inadequate as they focused on how the applicant had been sufficiently punished but not also on how he had been rehabilitated. The references did not indicate whether there was a likelihood of the Applicant re-offending. In the interest of the public it is vitally important that the court should be satisfied that he was not likely to lapse into his old ways (Narindar Singh (No 1)at [26], [39] and [51]); and The court took into account the views of the Attorney-General, whose duty was to safeguard the public interest. The Attorney-General highlighted the fact that the offence for which the Applicant was struck off the Roll “went to the heart of the administration of justice” and was not one which could be regarded as a “momentary lapse of judgment” and that his reinstatement at that point in time would affect the standing of the profession (Narindar Singh (No 1) at [12], [14], [34] and [37]).

However, the Court of Three Judges also gave a rough indication (Narindar Singh (No 1) at [57] and [62]) that an appropriate juncture for the Applicant to make a fresh application was possibly five years from the date of the first application, subject to such conditions as may be appropriate or required at the point when the second application is made.

The present application

In bringing the present application, more than five years had passed since the first application and during that period the Applicant had conducted himself well and did not come to any adverse notice with the law. This application for reinstatement was also supported by references from two social and religious leaders (mainly from the Sikh community), two ex-employers, and seven members of the Singapore bar (including his present employer, Mr Kertar Singh).

The Applicant submitted that the following grounds warranted his reinstatement by this court: He had been excluded from the legal profession for a period of 15 years and 6 months, a period which was sufficiently long as a punishment for his misconduct as well as for his rehabilitation. For comparison, he referred to Nirmal Singh s/o Fauja Singh v Law Society of Singapore [2010] SGHC 336 (“Nirmal Singh”) where the applicant successfully obtained...

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1 cases
  • Narindar Singh Kang v Law Society of Singapore [Court of Three Judges]
    • Singapore
    • Court of Appeal (Singapore)
    • 30 September 2013
    ...Singh Kang Plaintiff and Law Society of Singapore Defendant [2013] SGHC 195 Chao Hick Tin JA , Andrew Phang Boon Leong JA and V K Rajah JA Originating Summons No 298 of 2013 Court of Three Judges Legal Profession—Reinstatement—Interest of the public—Applicant struck off roll of advocates an......

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