Re Seow Francis T

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Judgment Date30 April 1973
Date30 April 1973
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 42 of 1973

[1973] SGHC 12

High Court

Wee Chong Jin CJ

,

A V Winslow J

and

Tan Ah Tah J

Originating Summons No 42 of 1973

Re Seow Francis T
Plaintiff
Law Society of Singapore
Plaintiff
and
Seow Francis T
Defendant

L P Thean for the applicant

M Kempston QC and Lim Chor Pee (Chor Pee & Hin Hiong) for the respondent.

Chit Funds Act 1971 ss 4, 53

Legal Profession Act (Cap 217, 1970 Rev Ed) s 84 (2) (b) (consd); s 90

Legal Profession–Professional conduct–Grossly improper conduct–Solicitor aware that partner sending letter of criminal nature in firm's name–Solicitor not taking positive action to withdraw letter–Whether solicitor has acted in grossly improper manner–Section 84 (2) (b) Legal Profession Act (Cap 217, 1970 Rev Ed)–Legal Profession–Professional conduct–Grossly improper conduct–Solicitor giving undertaking to hand over files relevant to criminal investigation–Solicitor relying on partner to give all relevant files–Solicitor not directing further search–Whether solicitor has honoured undertaking–Section 84 (2) (b) Legal Profession Act (Cap 217, 1970 Rev Ed)

The respondent was a solicitor who ran a firm in partnership with R. On behalf of his clients, R sent out a letter directing the disposal of several assets - an act which was criminal in nature. When the respondent became aware that the letter had been sent out, the respondent asked R to withdraw the letter but did nothing further. Subsequently, the police came to the respondent's firm to arrest R, and also to search the premises and seize the relevant files. The police did not search the firm, on the respondent's undertaking to the Attorney-General that he would hand over all relevant files. The respondent made R hand over several files, but did not direct that a further search be conducted by his own staff. It was subsequently discovered that additional files had not been handed over.

The Law Society contended that the respondent was guilty of grossly improper conduct in the discharge of his professional duty for failing to ensure that the letter had been countermanded or withdrawn at once, and further for giving an undertaking to the Attorney-General recklessly and irresponsibly. The Disciplinary Committee found the respondent guilty on both counts and the Law Society subsequently obtained an order to show cause against the respondent.

Before the court of three judges, the respondent contended that the relationship between partners was one of mutual trust. As he had not been directly involved in the misdeeds, he had at worst committed an error of judgment.

Held, suspending the respondent from practice for one year:

(1) Any solicitor acting honourably as a man and in his profession would have taken it upon himself to inform the recipient at once of the serious consequences of adhering to the instructions contained in the offending letter: at [18].

(2) With regards to the undertaking, the simple, obvious and normal step was for the respondent to give express orders and directions to every member of his staff to search every room of the office for relevant files or documents. His failure to do so amounted to culpable negligence which constituted grossly improper conduct in the discharge of his profession: at [20].

Wee Chong Jin CJ

(delivering the judgment of the court):

1 The respondent, Francis T Seow, an advocate and solicitor, appears before us to show cause why he should not be dealt with under s 34 of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 217, 1970 Rev Ed). The material provisions of s 84 are as follows:

  1. (1) All advocates and solicitors shall be subject to the control of the Supreme Court and shall be liable on due cause shown to be struck off the roll or suspended from practice for any period not exceeding two years or censured.

  2. (2) Such due cause may be shown by proof that such person

    1. (b) has been guilty of … grossly improper conduct in the discharge of his professional duty …

  1. (4) In any proceedings under this Part the court may in addition to the facts of the case take into account the past conduct of the person concerned in order to determine what order should be made.

2 Before starting private practice under the style or firm name of Francis T Seow (hereinafter for convenience called “the respondent's firm”) on 11 October 1971 the respondent was for about 15 years a legal officer in the Singapore Legal Service and held the post of Solicitor-General from 1 January 1969 to 18 September 1971. In March 1972 another former legal officer, Isaac Paul Ratnam (hereinafter referred to as “Ratnam”) joined the respondent's firm as a profit-sharing partner with a fixed monthly salary of $1,800 or 10% of the profits, whichever was the greater. Ratnam while in government service served for five years under the respondent in the Attorney-General's Chambers. The respondent had another qualified assistant, Miss Lucia Han, who joined the firm in January 1972.

3 In late April 1972 the respondent's firm was instructed to act in certain matters for the Gemini Chit Fund Corp (hereinafter referred to as “Gemini”), now in liquidation, whose principal business was that of carrying on the business of chit funds. Prior to the enactment in December 1971 and coming into force on 14 January 1972 of the Chit Funds Act 1971, the business of carrying on chit funds was not controlled by legislation but by s 4 of that Act. No chit fund business could be transacted in Singapore except by a public limited company incorporated in Singapore duly licensed under the Act to conduct chit fund business. The instructions to act were given to Ratnam who thereafter was the solicitor in charge of and who...

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3 cases
  • Re Lim Kiap Khee
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 30 June 2001
    ...(folld) Rajasooria v Disciplinary Committee [1955] 1 WLR 405 (folld) Seow Francis T, Re;Law Society of Singapore v Seow Francis T [1971-1973] SLR (R) 727; [1972-1974] SLR 469 (refd) Solicitor, In re A [1936] 1 DLR 368 (refd) Solicitor, In re A [1972] 1 WLR 869; [1972] 2 All ER 811 (refd) Le......
  • Re Tang King Kai
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 5 February 1991
    ...and College of Nurses of Ontario, Re (1980) 107 DLR (3d) 437 (distd) Seow Francis T, Re; Law Society of Singapore v Seow Francis T [1971-1973] SLR (R) 727; [1972-1974] SLR 469 (refd) Tan Boon Chee David v Medical Council of Singapore [1979-1980] SLR (R) 523; [1980-1981] SLR 331 (refd) Legal......
  • Law Society of Singapore v Tham Kok Leong Thomas
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 23 December 2005
    ...Hun Seang v Yeoh Oon Teik [1996] 2 SLR (R) 488; [1996] 3 SLR 156 (refd) Seow Francis T, Re;Law Society of Singapore v Seow Francis T [1971-1973] SLR (R) 727; [1972-1974] SLR 469 (refd) United Mining and Finance Corporation, Limited v Becher [1910] 2 KB 296 (refd) Legal Profession Act (Cap 1......

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