Seet Melvin v The Law Society of Singapore

Judgment Date18 May 1995
Date18 May 1995
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 15 of 1995
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Seet Melvin
Law Society of Singapore

[1995] SGCA 48

Yong Pung How CJ


M Karthigesu JA


L P Thean JA

Civil Appeal No 15 of 1995

Court of Appeal

Civil Procedure–Appeals–Adducing fresh evidence–Counsel tendered different set of documents at trial from what was sought to be adduced on appeal–Documents available all along–Whether motion to admit fresh evidence to be allowed–Order 57 r 13 (2) Rules of the Supreme Court (Cap 322, R 5, 1990 Ed)–Legal Profession–Disciplinary procedures–Role of Inquiry Committee–Complainant generally not entitled to right of hearing–Requirements of natural justice–Legal Profession–Duties–Client–Conflict of duties–Lawyer initially acted for both accused and co-accused–Lawyer subsequently discharged by accused–Court to examine whether real mischief and real prejudice would result from continued representation of co-accused–Residual duty of confidentiality

Seet (“the appellant”) was charged together with one Tan and two other persons for abetting one Yee in trafficking 1,693.47g of diamorphine at Changi Airport. Initially, Thangaveloo acted for both the appellant and Tan. Thangaveloo was later discharged by the appellant who engaged another lawyer, Palakrishnan. Palakrishnan took over and eventually went on to represent him at trial but it was Thangaveloo who conducted Tan's defence at the same trial. The appellant gave evidence implicating Tan and Thangaveloo was instructed not to cross-examine the appellant. However, Thangaveloo attacked the appellant's testimony in his closing submissions, stating that it was a tissue of lies, tailored to shove all blame on Tan. This formed the main basis of the appellant's complaint that Thangaveloo ought to be held liable for professional misconduct.

The Law Society's Inquiry Committee (“IC”) found that the complaint did not merit a formal investigation and the Council of the Law Society endorsed this finding. The IC was satisfied that Thangaveloo had not received any specific instructions from the appellant about his defence before he was discharged. The appellant then applied to the High Court pursuant to s 96 of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 1994 Rev Ed) alleging that the following constituted professional misconduct on the part of Thangaveloo: (a) attacking the appellant's evidence in his submissions without having cross-examined the appellant; (b) alleging that the appellant's evidence was a pack of lies, contrary to his instructions from Tan; and (c) misleading the court by doing so.

The judicial commissioner rejected these arguments. He was satisfied that Thangaveloo acted in Tan's best interests and accordingly dismissed the appellant's application. On appeal, the appellant sought to adduce fresh evidence which allegedly showed that Thangaveloo had received “detailed instructions” from the appellant while retained by him. The appellant then argued that: (a) Thangaveloo, having previously acted for the appellant, would have known the potential line of defences available to the appellant and thus should not have continued to act for Tan as there was a clear conflict of interest; (b) Thangaveloo had misled the court in failing to follow Tan's instructions and taking matters into his own hands in his submissions, without having cross-examined the appellant; (c) Thangaveloo was prohibited from attacking the appellant's credibility in his final submissions as he had not cross-examined him; and (d) the IC acted in breach of natural justice as it did not provide the appellant an opportunity to rebut Thangaveloo's explanations and that he was entitled to a right to an oral hearing before the IC as well since the IC had requested to hear Thangaveloo's explanations.

Held, dismissing both the motion and the appeal:

(1) In a motion to admit fresh evidence, the appellant must show that the evidence could not have been produced before the court below despite reasonable efforts having been made. In this case, there was no reason why the documents could not have been placed before the judicial commissioner, or, for that matter, even before the IC when the appellant first lodged his complaint. The motion failed at the first hurdle and was, accordingly, dismissed: at [8].

(2) The issue of conflict of duties required the court to examine whether Thangaveloo had caused real mischief and real prejudice by acting for Tan and making such submissions as he did against the appellant. Since Thangaveloo was not privy to any confidential information in relation to the appellant's proposed line of defence, no real mischief or prejudice was occasioned. Thangaveloo's duty was to act in Tan's best interests. He only owed a residual duty to the appellant. This was the duty to respect the confidence reposed in him in relation to whatever information had been gleaned from the appellant during his period of retainer. There was nothing from Thangaveloo's submissions that indicated a breach of the duty of confidentiality or a contravention of the rules of professional privilege: at [17], [20] and [21].

(3) It should be permissible for an accused to attack the evidence of his co-accused, provided the particular aspects of the evidence of the latter had been tested in cross-examination, whether by the Prosecution or by counsel for the other accused. It was therefore open to Thangaveloo to adopt the Prosecution's cross-examination of the appellant and attack his credibility on that basis. Counsel had absolute control over the conduct of the case on his client's behalf, and unless it could be shown that he had acted contrary to his client's interests, an allegation of misconduct would be difficult to sustain. There was no indication that Thangaveloo acted contrary to Tan's instructions, or made the submissions with the intention of misleading the court: at [38], [39] and [40].

(4) As a general rule, the complainant was not entitled to a right of hearing at IC proceedings. Unlike Thangaveloo, against whom the complaint was directed, the appellant did not have any statutory right to be heard at the inquiry. All that natural justice required was that the person or body charged with making the decision should act fairly. Having regard to the IC's role, the allegations as to breaches of natural justice were not tenable: at [44], [46] and [47].

Abdul Rashid bin Mohamed v PP [1993] 3 SLR (R) 656; [1994] 1 SLR 119 (refd)

Baugh v Cradocke (1832) 1 M & Rob 182; 174 ER 62 (distd)

Bricheno v Thorp (1821) Jac 300; 37 ER 864 (refd)

Browne v Dunn (1893) 6 R 67 (distd)

Calcraft v Guest [1898] 1 QB 759 (refd)

Cheong Kim Hock v Lin Securities (Pte) [1992] 1 SLR (R) 497; [1992] 2 SLR 349 (folld)

Earl Cholmondeley v Lord Clinton (1815) 19 Ves Jun 261; 34 ER 515; [1814-1823] All ER Rep 528 (distd)

Flanagan v Fahy [1918] IR 2 KB 361 (distd)

Goody v Baring [1956] 1 WLR 448; [1956] 2 All ER 11 (distd)

Ladd v Marshall [1954] 1 WLR 1489; [1954] 3 All ER 745 (folld)

Lau Liat Meng v Disciplinary Committee [1965-1967] SLR (R) 641; [1965-1968] SLR 8 (refd)

Law Society of Singapore v Chan Chow Wang [1974-1976] SLR (R) 237; [1972-1974] SLR 636 (refd)

Matthews v Munster (1887) 20 QBD 141 (folld)

Moody v Cox and Hatt [1917] 2 Ch 71 (distd)

O'Connell v Adams [1973] Crim LR 113 (refd)

Perry v Smith (1842) 9 M & W 681; 152 ER 288 (distd)

PP v Sanli bin Sunggoh [1989] 1 MLJ 14 (refd)

R v Bircham [1972] Crim LR 430 (distd)

R v Hart (1932) 23 Cr App R 202 (distd)

Rakusen v Ellis, Munday & Clarke [1912] 1 Ch 831 (folld)

Shore v Bedford (1843) 5 Man & G 271; 134 ER 567 (distd)

Shyamsingh v Deputy Inspector-General of PoliceAIR 1965 Raj 140 (distd)

Tan Siew Chay v PP [1993] 1 SLR (R) 267; [1993] 2 SLR 14 (refd)

Whitehouse Holdings Pte Ltd v Law Society of Singapore [1994] 2 SLR (R) 485; [1994] 2 SLR 476 (folld)

Wong Juan Swee v Law Society of Singapore [1993] 1 SLR (R) 429; [1993] 2 SLR 554 (refd)

Yong & Co v Wee Hood Teck Development Corporation [1984] 2 MLJ 39 (distd)

Yusuf Jumabhoy v Law Society of Singapore [1988] 1 SLR (R) 63; [1988] SLR 236 (folld)

Legal Profession Act (Cap 161,1994 Rev Ed)ss 86, 96

Rules of the Supreme Court (Cap 322, R 5, 1990 Ed)O 57r 13 (2) (consd)

Edmond Pereira and Tan Yew Cheng (Edmond Pereira & Partners) for the appellant

Michael Hwang and Lim Wee Teck (Allen & Gledhill) for the respondent.

Yong Pung How CJ

(delivering the grounds of judgment of the court):

1 The appellant applied under s 96 of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 1994 Ed) (“the LPA”) for the High Court to direct the Law Society of Singapore to apply to the Chief Justice for the appointment of a disciplinary committee in respect of a complaint against an advocate and solicitor, Suppiah Thangaveloo (“Thangaveloo”). The High Court refused the appellant's application. Instead, the court made an order affirming the determination of the Council of the Law Society that a formal investigation into the complaint was not necessary. The appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal against this order. We dismissed his appeal and we now give our reasons.

The background to the appellant's complaint

2 The appellant was arrested on 6 May 1986 and subsequently charged together with three other persons for abetting one Yee Kim Yeou (“Yee”) in trafficking 1,693.47g of diamorphine at Changi Airport. Tan Siang Leng (“Tan”) was one of the others charged together with the appellant. The appellant's family engaged Thangaveloo to act as his counsel shortly after his arrest, but discharged him from acting further after between two to three months. This took place before the preliminary inquiry for the case was held. The appellant then appointed Mr Francis Seow as his counsel on or about 7 August 1986. Mr Francis Seow was in turn discharged, and Mr R Palakrishnan (“Palakrishnan”) was eventually appointed to act on the appellant's behalf. Palakrishnan went on to represent the appellant during his trial...

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14 cases
  • Wee Soon Kim Anthony v The Law Society of Singapore (No 4)
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 7 Diciembre 2001
    ......In Seet Melvin v Law Society of Singapore [1995] 2 SLR 323 , Chief Justice Yong Pung How, delivering the judgment of the Court of Appeal, said, at p ......
  • Tan Yeow Khoon and Another v The Law Society of Singapore
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 7 Junio 2001
    ......In the case of Seet Melvin v Law Society of Singapore [1995] 2 SLR 323 , the Court of Appeal had expressed its views on the concept of fairness in relation to a ......
  • Kwee Seng Chio Peter v Biogenics Sdn Bhd
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 11 Diciembre 2002
    ...and therefore the court should accept what Kwee said: see Browne v Dunn (1893) 6 R 67; Seet Melvin v Law Society of Singapore [1995] 2 SLR 323 at 338 and Dr. Lo Sook Ling Adela v Au Mei Yin Christina & Anor [2002] 1 SLR 408. 21. Kwee, Quek and Lim were hardly challenged on their respective ......
  • Subbiah Pillai v Wong Meng Meng and Others
    • Singapore
    • Court of Appeal (Singapore)
    • 20 Julio 2001
    ...... proper procedure to be observed by an Inquiry Committee of the Law Society of Singapore appointed to inquire into a complaint lodged by a client .... . . . In Seet Melvin v Law Society of Singapore [1995] 2 SLR 323 , it was the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • Legal Profession
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2002, December 2002
    • 1 Diciembre 2002
    ...information imparted by a former client was raised by a defendant against a co-defendant (cf: Seet Melvin v Law Society of Singapore[1995] 2 SLR 323 where an advocate and solicitor was alleged to have conducted himself improperly by representing a defendant when the co-defendant was a forme......
  • Legal Profession
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2005, December 2005
    • 1 Diciembre 2005
    ...defendant from acting against him, a former client, according to the principle laid down in Seet Melvin v The Law Society of Singapore[1995] 2 SLR 323 or Bolkiah v KPMG[1999] 2 AC 222 (‘Bolkiah”s case’). The latter case especially dispelled previous misunderstandings about the nature of the......
  • Civil Procedure
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2017, December 2017
    • 1 Diciembre 2017
    ...Ltd [2017] SGHCR 15 at [53]. 64 Cap 97, 1997 Rev Ed. 65 [2017] SGHC 180; see also paras 8.183–8.195 below. 66 [2017] 2 SLR 94. 67 [1995] 2 SLR(R) 186. 68 [2017] SGHCR 1. 69 [2017] SGHC 140. 70 United Overseas Bank Ltd v Lippo Marina Collection Pte Ltd [2017] SGHC 140 at [21]. 71 United Over......

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