New protocol for lawyers behaving badly

Lawyers booked for inappropriate conduct in court may have to agree to training or counselling by a senior lawyer as part of a new protocol worked out by an ad-hoc study committee.

The arrangement to be put in place provides for the Law Society to be notified by the court about the inappropriate conduct which, in turn, will be fed back to the lawyer.

As this is voluntary, it is up to the lawyer to agree to counselling or training if required and be reminded of his or her duty to the court.

Law Society president Thio Shen Yi, providing details of the new protocol in the latest issue of the society's Law Gazette, said the arrangement agreed between the courts and the society's governing council was meant to rectify such infractions informally.

"Moving forward, a complaint triggering the disciplinary process does not necessarily have to be both the first and last resort, but will be managed with a 'lighter touch'."

Senior Counsel Thio had noted last year that judges in both the High Court and State Courts had observed an increasing incidence of inappropriate conduct.

Among other things, lack of punctuality had drawn comments from the State Courts, High Court and even the Singapore International Commercial Court.

The study committee under the Singapore Academy of Law's Professional Affairs Committee chaired by Justice Quentin Loh had concluded that the current range of formal disciplinary measures was too limited to tackle the wide variations of inappropriate conduct.

"The courts had a binary decision - complain and constitute an inquiry committee or disciplinary tribunal or simply do nothing.

"This created a situation which almost counter-productively encouraged more complaints than fewer," he said.

"A middle ground was needed, one that could potentially lead to a de-escalation of the complaints."

Mr Thio said if the errant lawyer accepts the feedback and the court is satisfied the lawyer has taken steps to address the issue, the matter will likely be treated as closed.

K. C. Vijayan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2016, with the headline 'New protocol for lawyers behaving badly'. Print Edition | Subscribe