Bid to get complaints against SC reheard fails

Review panel had earlier dismissed lawyer's claims against ex-Law Society president

The High Court has rejected a bid by a lawyer to have his complaints against a former Law Society president reheard after a Review Committee had dismissed his claims.

Lawyer Zero Nalpon had complained to the Law Society last year about then president Thio Shen Yi's conduct, following the senior counsel's message in the February 2016 issue of the Singapore Law Gazette.

Senior Counsel Thio had addressed police conduct in probing an alleged case of molestation by a 14-year-old boy who was interviewed in his principal's office and then at a police division and later found dead at the foot of his block.

Mr Nalpon's five complaints involved, among other things, two statements in the message and other comments the society president had allegedly made to a newspaper, which he said were wrong, making them false statements.

A Review Committee (RC) constituted in October last year probed the case and issued a report to the Law Society council which dismissed his complaints. It concluded that they lacked substance and were "misconceived and vexatious".

In February, he asked the High Court for permission to apply for a judicial review of the RC' s decision.

Mr Nalpon, who represented himself, sought to quash the RC's decision while the Law Society, defended by Senior Counsel Andre Maniam and lawyer Koh Jia Wen, opposed his move at hearings in May.

Justice Woo Bih Li, in judgment grounds released yesterday, found one complaint to be a "non-starter" and said the RC did not err in rejecting two other complaints where SC Thio was alleged to have made false statements to the press.

The crux of Mr Nalpon' s remaining two complaints related to SC Thio's message in the Law Gazette in which he made statements that were "wrong and therefore false".

One statement said five plainclothes policemen visited the school and spoke to the boy.

The first part was accurate but there was some evidence the second part was wrong, said the judge.

Justice Woo held that the RC should have given more weight to a news report in which the Law Minister had said SC Thio's claim of five officers speaking to the boy was false. But the judge ruled this error alone did not suggest bias.

"Solicitors make mistakes and it cannot be that each time a solicitor makes a wrong or false statement that the complaint must be referred to an inquiry committee," said Justice Woo, in dismissing Mr Nalpon's judicial review application.

Mr Nalpon is appealing the case.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2017, with the headline 'Bid to get complaints against SC reheard fails'. Print Edition | Subscribe