Lawyer who focused on molest victim's breast fined by disciplinary tribunal in another case

In response to a witness' answer to a question, lawyer Edmund Wong Sin Yee muttered an expletive in court.
In response to a witness' answer to a question, lawyer Edmund Wong Sin Yee muttered an expletive in court.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Lawyer Edmund Wong Sin Yee, who was rapped by a district judge for focusing on the breast size of a molest victim, has been fined $3,000 by a Law Society disciplinary tribunal over his conduct in a separate case.

He was also ordered to pay the Law Society $6,500 in costs.

While a prosecution witness was recounting sexual acts she had performed on a customer in a vice-related trial in September last year, Mr Wong had made the snide remark: "Ask her whether shiok or not". Shiok is a colloquial term used in local parlance to mean "enjoyable".

The next day, when the witness could not recount a particular event, he remarked: "Can remember the sex but cannot remember anything else."

And the day after, in response to the witness' answer to a question, he said in court: "F***."

 

According to a tribunal report on the case, obtained by The Straits Times on Friday (Aug 5), Mr Wong was found guilty last month on one out of three charges of misconduct unbefitting a lawyer, by failing to treat his professional colleagues with courtesy.

The tribunal, consisting of Senior Counsel Edwin Tong and Mr Pradeep Pillai, also found Mr Wong guilty on one out of three counts of improper conduct or practice, by making scandalous statements.

Mr Wong, who is in his late 50s and runs his own firm S Y Wong Law Chambers, had defended three out of four clients in the vice-related trial before District Judge Luke Tan.

On Sept 15 last year, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Houston Johannus had asked the prosecution witness to recount the sexual acts she performed.

Mr Wong then uttered to DPP Johannus: "Ask her whether shiok or not".

This remark was also heard by the DPP's colleague, DPP Rachel Lee Pei Rong, who was jointly prosecuting the case.

On Sept 16, the same witness said she could not recount a particular event, when asked by lawyer Daniel Xu, who was defending the other client.

Mr Wong then remarked: "Can remember the sex but cannot remember anything else". The remark was heard by both DPPs.

On Sept 17, in response to the same witness' answer to a question by Mr Xu, Mr Wong uttered: "F***". This was again heard by the DPPs.

This time, DPP Johannus objected to Mr Wong's use of expletives in court (see below).

In November last year, the Attorney-General lodged a complaint against the lawyer to the Law Society.

Mr Wong denied the six charges, and the disciplinary tribunal heard the case on May 10.

Mr Chandra Mohan and Ms Doreen Chia, who represented the Law Society, argued that DPP Johannus and DPP Lee were annoyed and scandalised by Mr Wong's remarks in court, which were also discourteous.

Senior Counsel (SC) Chelva Rajah, Mr Wong's lawyer, argued that his conduct did not amount to improper conduct or practice, or misconduct unbefitting a lawyer.

SC Rajah further argued that Mr Wong's remarks were neither made to annoy the DPPs, nor intended to insult the witness. They were not meant to be heard by, and was not heard by the witness, who does not understand English, he said.

Mr Wong's first remark, on Sept 15, was made as a "joke" on the spur of the moment and rhetorically. It was not meant as a suggestion for DPP Johannus to ask the witness if she had enjoyed the sexual acts, or to annoy DPP Johannus and DPP Lee, SC Rajah argued.

Mr Wong's second remark and third remarks, meanwhile, were prompts to Mr Xu.

The third remark, he contended, was not uttered as a single abusive expletive, but was part of a prompt to Mr Xu to ask the witness if she had a customer "pay her money to f*** or not".

The disciplinary tribunal, in its report, noted that Mr Wong did not deny uttering the offensive remarks, but had only sought to qualify how and to whom he had made them to.

The first remark, the tribunal found, was not discourteous to the DPPs as it was not directed at them. However, it was calculated to annoy the DPPs, it said.

The tribunal found his second remark, meanwhile, was neither directed at the DPPs, nor scandalous or insulting to them.

On the last remark, the tribunal agreed with Mr Wong's lawyers that he had uttered the expletive in the context of a prompt to Mr Xu. But it added: "This tribunal is of the view that the use of expletives by counsel during proceedings cannot be condoned.

"Counsel should be aware and observe the proper rules of etiquette and decorum in court. This includes counsel being mindful of one's manners towards his or her fellow counsel, witnesses, persons in the court and the judge.

"Making comments with expletives would in our opinion serve to annoy fellow counsel even if such comments are not directed or addressed to them."


Extract of court proceedings on Sept 17, 2015

DPP Johannus: Your Honour, I'm sorry to interrupt. I've been very patient with my learned friend, Mr Wong. But he's been making snide remarks and now, he's progressed to uttering expletives. Next to me, I could hear it. My co-counsel can hear it. Mr Xu can hear it.

Mr Xu: I did not hear it.

Judge Tan: Mr Wong...

DPP Johannus: Sorry. May I request Mr Wong to behave himself like a proper member of the Bar please?

Judge Tan: Can you refrain from making remarks? It's completely unnecessary.

Mr Wong: Your Honour, I just want to pass some point to my co-counsel. I do not intentionally make remarks and neither does the witness understand English at all. So, I just tell my co-counsel what are some of the points, that's all.

Judge Tan: Then can you do it in such a way that it doesn't interrupt the proceedings?

Mr Wong: Okay.

DPP Houston: Thank you, Your Honour.