Re Michael Fordham QC

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeSteven Chong J
Judgment Date05 November 2014
Neutral Citation[2014] SGHC 223
Citation[2014] SGHC 223
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 595 of 2014
Published date11 November 2014
Hearing Date26 September 2014
Subject MatterAdmission,Legal Profession,Ad hoc
Plaintiff CounselAbraham Vergis and Clive Myint Soe (Providence Law Asia LLC)
Defendant CounselJeffrey Chan Wah Teck SC and Terence Tan (Attorney-General's Chambers),Christopher Anand Daniel, Harjean Kaur and Aw Sze Min (Advocatus Law LLP)
Steven Chong J: Introduction

This is an application by Mr Michael Fordham QC (“the Applicant”) for ad hoc admission under s 15 of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2009 Rev Ed) (“LPA”). The Applicant seeks admission to represent Mr Deepak Sharma (“Mr Sharma”) in the latter’s application for judicial review against the decision of a Review Committee (“RC”) constituted under s 85(6) of the LPA in respect of his complaint to the Law Society of Singapore against two solicitors, namely, Mr Alvin Yeo SC (“Mr Yeo SC”) and Ms Melanie Ho (“Ms Ho”). The RC had wholly dismissed Mr Sharma’s complaint against Mr Yeo SC and partially dismissed it against Ms Ho. By way of background, Mr Sharma’s complaint arose in connection with several costs orders made against his wife, Dr Susan Lim (“Dr Lim”), following the dismissal of various applications and appeals brought by Dr Lim against the Singapore Medical Council (“SMC”) in the course of earlier disciplinary proceedings.

The entire saga concerning the disciplinary proceedings against Dr Lim has already gone through two rounds of hearings before the Disciplinary Committee of the SMC, which found her guilty of professional misconduct for overcharging. Dr Lim was suspended from medical practice for three years, censured and fined $10,000. She appealed to the High Court but this was eventually dismissed. In the present application, the events which occurred prior to Dr Lim’s aforementioned appeal are material. It is pertinent to note that Dr Lim had challenged certain procedural decisions of the SMC by initiating two applications in the High Court, one of which was subsequently withdrawn while the other made its way to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal ultimately dismissed Dr Lim’s appeal in respect of the latter application with costs ordered against her. When no agreement could be reached on the costs ordered against Dr Lim, the SMC’s lawyers, Wong Partnership LLP (“Wong P”) filed their bills of costs for taxation in the High Court and, upon taxation, the costs were significantly reduced. In an ironic twist of events, the saga continues with Dr Lim’s husband, Mr Sharma, lodging a complaint against the SMC’s lawyers for gross overcharging as evidenced by the significant reduction of costs on taxation, the very same act of professional misconduct which led to his wife’s suspension.

Apart from the intense publicity generated by the entire episode, there are several unusual features in this application as well as in the underlying application for judicial review.

First, this is not a typical judicial review filed by a party directly aggrieved by an administrative body’s decision. The complaint was filed not by Dr Lim, but by her husband instead. No explanation was forthcoming as to why the complaint was not filed by the party who is liable to pay the costs to the SMC, ie, Dr Lim. Mr Sharma purported to demonstrate his interest in the complaint by stating that he was the “co-funder” of Dr Lim’s legal fees and that he owed it to his “conscience to make this complaint”. However, during the hearing before me, he adopted the position that the complaint can be filed by anyone without having to establish any standing. Such an unusual application not unexpectedly raises interesting issues on Mr Sharma’s locus standi which I will address below.

Second, the ad hoc admission application is also unusual in one very unique fact. The Applicant in his statement in support of his application asserted that he should be admitted “[n]otwithstanding that I do not satisfy all the requirements under s 15” of the LPA. I note that this is the first application for ad hoc admission where the Applicant himself accepted that the requirements under s 15 are not satisfied. However, the Applicant purported to correct his statement by subsequently filing a corrective affidavit (a) without leave of court, (b) without explaining why he had earlier stated that he did not satisfy the requirements under s 15, and (c) what caused him to reverse his position.

I will return to discuss these peculiarities in due course. At this juncture, however, it is perhaps appropriate to elaborate on the relevant background facts in greater detail.

Background facts

On 23 January 2014, Mr Sharma made a complaint to the Law Society under s 85(1) of the LPA against Mr Yeo SC and Ms Ho of Wong P.1Letter from Mr Sharma to the Law Society of Singapore dated 23 January 2014 (“Complaint Letter”), exhibited in Mr Sharma’s 1st Affidavit dated 26 June 2014 (“Mr Sharma’s 1st Affidavit”). In essence, the complaint alleged that Mr Yeo SC and Ms Ho were guilty of professional misconduct in seeking grossly excessive party-and-party costs against Dr Lim in Originating Summons No 1131 of 2010 (“OS 1131/2010”), Originating Summons No 1252 of 2010 (“OS 1252/2010”) and Civil Appeal No 80 of 2011 (“CA 80/2011”).2Complaint Letter at p 3. OS 1131/2010, OS 1252/2010 and CA 80/2011 were all filed in the course of a separate set of proceedings between Dr Lim and the SMC, which had been represented by Wong P throughout. Those proceedings were set in motion by a complaint of overcharging against Dr Lim in late 2007 and culminated only in June 2013 with the High Court’s decision in Lim Mey Lee Susan v Singapore Medical Council [2013] 3 SLR 900 (“Susan Lim”), which upheld the decision of a Disciplinary Committee appointed by the SMC to convict Dr Lim on 94 charges of professional misconduct. The procedural history leading up to the decision in Susan Lim is set out in detail at [3]–[23] of the judgment. For present purposes, it is only necessary to highlight the following facts to place Mr Sharma’s complaint in its proper context.

The proceedings between the SMC and Dr Lim

On 3 December 2007, an official of the Ministry of Health, Singapore (“MOHS”) lodged a complaint against Dr Lim with the SMC (Susan Lim at [11]). This complaint expressed MOHS’s concern over the sums invoiced by Dr Lim for the treatment of one of her patients and concluded that MOHS was referring the matter to the SMC for a thorough investigation. The complaint was laid before a Complaints Committee which, after having invited and reviewed Dr Lim’s written explanation, made an order on 17 November 2008 that a formal inquiry be held by a Disciplinary Committee (Susan Lim at [12]). A Disciplinary Committee (“the First DC”) was duly appointed to inquire into MOHS’s complaint.

On 20 July 2009, the First DC issued a notice of inquiry to Dr Lim containing 94 charges of professional misconduct under s 45(1)(d) of the Medical Registration Act (Cap 174, 2004 Rev Ed) (Susan Lim at [14]). The hearing before the First DC commenced on 28 January 2010 and, at the close of the Prosecution’s case, counsel for Dr Lim made a submission of no case to answer. A three-day hearing commencing on 29 July 2010 was fixed for oral submissions but, as it turned out, the First DC recused itself after an application was made by Dr Lim’s counsel on the basis that the First DC had prejudged the matter (Susan Lim at [14]).

Subsequently, the SMC proceeded to appoint a fresh Disciplinary Committee (“the Second DC”) on 14 September 2010 (Susan Lim at [15]). This prompted Dr Lim to file OS 1131/2010 and OS 1252/2010 on 1 November 2010 and 17 December 2010 respectively.3Complaint Letter at p 2.

OS 1131/2010 was an application that the SMC had no right to use the patient’s confidential medical records in disciplinary proceedings against Dr Lim without the consent of the patient’s next-of-kin. However, it was later withdrawn on 21 February 2011 after the SMC produced a letter from the patient’s next-of-kin which permitted the use of her medical records.4Complaint Letter at p 2. OS 1252/2010 was a judicial review application for a quashing order against the SMC’s decision to appoint the Second DC. This application was heard before Philip Pillai J, who granted leave for judicial review (see Lim Mey Lee Susan v Singapore Medical Council [2011] SGHC 131) but eventually dismissed the application for a quashing order on 26 May 2011 (see Lim Mey Lee Susan v Singapore Medical Council [2011] 4 SLR 156).

CA 80/2011 was Dr Lim’s appeal against Pillai J’s decision. It was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on 30 November 2011 with costs ordered against her (see Lim Mey Lee Susan v Singapore Medical Council [2012] 1 SLR 701).

The claim for costs against Dr Lim

In a letter dated 12 March 2012, the SMC’s solicitors (ie, Wong P) sought to recover party-and-party costs against Dr Lim in respect of OS 1131/2010, OS 1252/2010 and CA 80/2011.5Complaint Letter at p 3. The sums claimed were disputed and Dr Lim’s solicitors offered a counter-proposal in their reply to Wong P on 8 June 2012.6Complaint Letter at p 3. Wong P did not agree to this counter-proposal and thus proceeded to draw up three bills of costs for taxation in respect of OS 1131/2010, OS 1252/2010 and CA 80/2011 which totalled $1,007,009.37.7Complaint Letter at p 3. At the taxation hearing on 25 June 2013, the Assistant Registrar taxed off approximately two-thirds of the total sum claimed in the three bills, allowing the recovery of only $340,000.8Complaint Letter at p 3.

Dissatisfied with the outcome, Wong P applied for a review of the taxation which was heard by Woo Bih Li J on 12 August 2013. Prior to the review hearing, Wong P, on their own accord, reduced the total quantum of costs sought to $720,000, which was $287,009.37 less than the total sum of $1,007,009.37 claimed under the original bills.9Complaint Letter at p 6. The explanation given by Wong P for this unilateral deduction at the review hearing was that its earlier bills had not taken into account an “overlap” in work done between members of the same team handling the SMC’s matter. In any event, Woo J did not deviate far from the Assistant Registrar’s earlier order, allowing Wong P to claim only a marginally higher sum of...

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