Re Han Ngiap Juan

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeGoh Joon Seng J
Judgment Date30 January 1993
Neutral Citation[1993] SGHC 20
Citation[1993] SGHC 20
Plaintiff CounselWoo Bih Li (Bih Li & Lee)
SubjectWhether dishonesty, fraud or deceit a necessary element of grossly improper conduct,s 83(2)(b) Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 1990 Ed),Overcharging,Legal Profession,Whether amounting to grossly improper conduct
Publication Date19 September 2003
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 856 of 1992
Defendant CounselB Mohan Singh (B Mohan Singh & Co)
Date30 January 1993

Han Ngiap Juan (`the respondent`) was admitted as an advocate and solicitor in 1973. Following his admission he was employed briefly as a legal officer at the Legal Aid Bureau, and then in two companies. In 1983 he set up practice on his own account, under the name and style `NJ Han`, of which firm he was at all material times, and continues to be, the sole proprietor.

In May 1988, that is to say some five years after he commenced private practice, the respondent was instructed by Tan Siong Kern (`Mr Tan`) on behalf of Wee Tiong Co Pte Ltd (`the complainant`), to act for them in the purchase of a property known as No 85 Amoy Street, Singapore (`the property`), for a sum of $250,000. The complainant was subsequently substituted as the purchaser. The respondent proceeded to act in the purchase of the property on behalf of Mr Tan, and later on behalf of the complainant, as instructed. The respondent rendered a bill for his services to the complainant amounting to $19,997.85, inclusive of disbursements, on 23 June 1988, well before completion, which occurred sometime in September 1988. Out of this sum, the fee charged for acting in the purchase of the property was $6,725 (`the conveyancing fee`) and a sum of $3,000 was charged for the filing of an application for lapsing of caution (`the application fee`). The bill was paid in full by the complainant.

By a letter dated 26 September 1990 the complainant made a complaint about the respondent on various matters, including the bill dated 23 June 1988. The present proceedings arose out of the conveyancing fee and the application fee charged in this bill. The charge against the respondent was in the following terms:

You, Han Ngiap Juan, are charged that on or about 23 June 1988 you did charge Wee Tiong Co Pte Ltd, purchaser of the property known as No 85 Amoy Street, Singapore (hereafter referred to as `the said property`) a sum of:

(a) $6,725 for acting in the purchase of the said property when the correct amount should be $1,975; and

(b) $3,000 for filing an application for lapsing of caution in respect of the said property when the correct amount should be $100

which sums were far in excess of and disproportionate to what you were entitled to charge for the services you rendered and such overcharging by you amounts to grossly improper conduct in the discharge of your professional duty within the meaning of s 83(2)(b) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161).

The fact of overcharging and the amount by which each item was overcharged were not in dispute. The respondent admitted them in his first letter of explanation to the inquiry committee dated 26 November 1990.

A solicitor`s remuneration for conveyancing business is governed by a scale set out in the First Schedule to the Legal Profession (Solicitors` Remuneration) Order and the scale fee which was properly chargeable by the respondent for acting in the purchase of the property was $1,975. The respondent admitted that the conveyancing fee, which amounted to $6,725, should not have exceeded $1,975. There is no scale charge for the filing of an application for lapsing of caution. However, the Law Society asserted and the respondent admitted that the fee properly chargeable was $100, as against the $3,000 charged by the respondent.

Soon after the complaint was lodged the respondent gave the complainant credit for the total amount overcharged. The respondent contended that, although his conduct in overcharging was open to criticism, he was not guilty of grossly improper conduct within the meaning of s 83(2)(b) of the Legal Profession Act, such that there existed cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action against him.

Until the day before the hearing before the disciplinary committee commenced, the respondent`s explanations in letters to the inquiry committee and in his defence filed on 15 May 1992, after the inquiry committee had investigated the matter, were:

(i) that he had had no conveyancing experience prior to commencing practice in 1983;

(ii) that when he rendered the bill in question in 1988 he had had limited experience with conveyancing bills;

(iii) that his firm was a sole proprietorship, and that his staff at the material time had comprised one clerk;

(iv) that for the purpose of drawing up the bill in question he had procured a specimen bill from another firm of solicitors;

(v) that he had left the preparation of the bill to his clerk, and that he had accepted as correct the bill so prepared.

In view of these proffered explanations, counsel for the Law Society asked for production of the specimen bill, the name and address of the respondent`s clerk at the material time, inspection of the respondent`s records of files opened from the time he started practice to the time the bill in question was rendered on 23 June 1988, and inspection of his conveyancing bills for the same period before the disciplinary committee hearing. The respondent`s solicitors replied that the specimen bill had been destroyed after it was copied from; they gave the name and address of the clerk, and declined the request for inspection of documents on the basis that counsel for the Law Society was not entitled to such inspection. Counsel for the Law Society then put the respondent`s solicitors on notice that the documents requested for inspection should be brought to the disciplinary committee hearing to avoid any delay in the hearing in case the disciplinary committee should agree that such documents be produced for inspection and/or verification.

On 29 June 1992, the day before the commencement of the hearing before the disciplinary committee on 30 June 1992, the respondent`s solicitors wrote to counsel for the Law Society to give a different reason for the overcharge of the conveyancing fee, viz that the conveyancing fee was based on a valuation report exhibited in an affidavit in Originating Summons No 699 of 1987, in which the mortgagee of the property claimed possession of the property and the complainant`s director, Mr Tan, was the second defendant. The valuation in the...

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19 cases
  • Law Society of Singapore v Andre Ravindran Saravanapavan Arul
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 20 April 2012
    ...had been suspended from practice for the gross overcharging of clients: Re Lau Liat Meng [1992] 2 SLR(R) 186, Re Han Ngiap Juan [1993] 1 SLR(R) 135 and Law Society of Singapore v Low Yong Sen [2009] 1 SLR(R) 802 (“Low Yong Sen”). In these three cases, the court had imposed suspension period......
  • Law Society of Singapore v Andre Ravindran Saravanapavan Arul
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 7 October 2011
    ...D'Alessandro v Legal Practitioners Complaints Committee P 9/1996 (9 August 1996) [1996] HCA Trans 300 (refd) Han Ngiap Juan, Re [1993] 1 SLR (R) 135; [1993] 2 SLR 81 (distd) Lau Liat Meng, Re [1992] 2 SLR (R) 186; [1992] 2 SLR 203 (distd) Law Society of Singapore v Low Yong Sen [2009] 1 SLR......
  • Law Society of Singapore v Ahmad Khalis bin Abdul Ghani
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 21 August 2006
    ...the absence of dishonesty does not necessarily mean that there has been an absence of professional misconduct: Re Han Ngiap Juan [1993] 2 SLR 81 at 87–89, [26]–[29] and Re Lim Kiap Khee [2001] 3 SLR 616 at [19] (applying Rajasooria v Disciplinary Committee [1955] 1 WLR 405). Indeed, profess......
  • Law Society of Singapore v Ng Chee Sing
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 13 March 2000
    ...Partnership) for the applicant Respondent absent. Bolton v Law Society [1994] 1 WLR 512, [1994] 2 All ER 486 (refd) Han Ngiap Juan, Re [1993] 1 SLR (R) 135; [1993] 2 SLR 81 (folld) Law Society of Singapore v Heng Guan Hong Geoffrey [1999] 3 SLR (R) 966; [2000] 1 SLR 361 (folld) Law Society ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal Nbr. 2001, December 2001
    • 1 December 2001
    ...v Heng Guan Hong Geoffrey [2000] 1 SLR 361 at 367; Law Society of Singapore v Marshall David Saul[1972—1974] SLR 132; Re Han Ngiap Juan[1993] 2 SLR 81. Applying this test, the Court found the Respondent guilty of grossly improper conduct. While the authorities are at one in condemning such ......

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