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Law Society, AGC seek review of case where senior lawyer was cleared of alleged overcharging

SINGAPORE — A month after a disciplinary tribunal cleared a senior lawyer of alleged overcharging, the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) and the Attorney-General's Chambers' (AGC) have separately applied for the High Court to review the decision.

SINGAPORE — A month after a disciplinary tribunal cleared a senior lawyer of alleged overcharging, the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) and the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) have separately applied for the High Court to review the decision.

In response to TODAY's queries, a LawSoc spokesperson said: “While it is not unprecedented for the Council of the Law Society to file a court application to review the determination of the disciplinary tribunal's report, it is rare to do so."

The case involves Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo — a former People's Action Party Member of Parliament — who had initially charged a wealthy widow a bill of S$7.56 million in professional fees, when he represented her to challenge an application by her sisters to become her deputies so they could act on her behalf.

Her sisters claimed that the elderly widow does not have mental capacity to act for herself and was unduly influenced by her daughter and son-in-law. The widow — who is in her 80s and was not named — had inherited about S$200 million and was expected to receive another S$100 million from the estate. It was not stated when she received the inheritance.

The bill charged by Mr Yeo's firm WongPartnership was for work done over more than four and a half years of litigation, from November 2010 to June 2015.

However, the law firm gave a 32.5 per cent discount following negotiations, thereby reducing the fees to about S$5.1 million. Of this sum, the elderly widow would fork out about S$542,000, while the remainder was to be paid by the woman’s daughter and son-in-law.

In its findings on May 28, a disciplinary tribunal found “no cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action” had been made out under the relevant legislation against Mr Yeo.

In response to media queries, a LawSoc spokesperson said on Friday (June 28) that it filed a court application on June 25, seeking a review of the disciplinary tribunal’s decision of the case under Section 97 of the Legal Profession Act.

In response to TODAY's queries, an AGC spokesperson said: “The Attorney-General has filed a review application to ensure that the Court of Appeal’s complaint is fully and properly addressed, in the public interest.”

WongPartnership declined to comment on the applications, as the matter is before the courts.

At such a review hearing, the judge may make orders as he or she thinks fit, including an order setting aside the findings of the disciplinary tribunal and directing the disciplinary tribunal to rehear and reinvestigate the complaint or matter.

Alternatively, the judge may also order the LawSoc to apply to Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon for another disciplinary tribunal to rehear and reinvestigate the complaint or matter.

LawSoc president Gregory Vijayendran said the application was "neither an appeal on the decision nor a show cause application". Instead, it seeks a review on whether the findings of the disciplinary tribunal were correct based on law, he added.

In 2017, the legal fees for the case caught the attention of a coram of three judges comprising CJ Menon, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang and then-Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin. The judges had presided over the case when it was heard at the Court of Appeal.

On April 26, 2017, the coram pointed out that the fees that were agreed on were “objectively very high” and this was a matter of concern as the elderly widow was “found to lack (mental) capacity” at the material time.

These were set out in a letter which the coram submitted on July 31, 2017 — through the Registrar of the Supreme Court — to the LawSoc to look into the matter. The letter stated that "by referring this matter for investigation, the judges have not arrived at any conclusion as to whether or not there has been professional misconduct".

Under the Legal Profession Act, LawSoc’s governing council can apply to the Chief Justice to appoint a disciplinary tribunal to look into more serious complaints against legal practitioners, with the society prosecuting the case.

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