Judge ticks off lawyers for being late in court

The Supreme Court building.
The Supreme Court building.PHOTO: ST FILE

Lawyers who showed up late for a hearing to admit four practice trainees drew the ire of a High Court judge, who stressed that their lack of punctuality must not rub off on the trainees.

Those four were on time and present in court, but not their supervising lawyers.

The trainees' applications were among 43 heard before Justice Choo Han Teck on Monday for part call, that allows trainees limited audience before courts prior to being fully qualified for the Bar.

The judge dismissed the four applications as their supervising lawyers were absent. All the other applications were dealt with. The four trainees will have to apply again.

"Unpunctuality in such applications also imparts the wrong lesson that the court can be kept waiting," he said in decision grounds released yesterday. He made clear the practice trainees are not to be "faulted" as they were present in court "but they might leave with the impression that they need not be on time in future. That must not be part of their training".

The judge said a lawyer being late is disrespectful to the judge and the court.

Justice Choo further ticked off one of the lawyers, who said he was at a lower court because of a scheduling clash, and said these are usually resolved but if not, the higher court "takes precedence". Yet in this case the lawyer did not even send a replacement to stand in for him in the High Court.

The lawyer's follow-up letter regretting "any inconvenience caused" made the "initial failing even more egregious by the utter lack of contrition", he said. "The best lesson a senior or supervising lawyer imparts to his junior is by being an exemplary role model."

In a separate matter, a Court of Three Judges suspended a lawyer for two months for professional misconduct in borrowing money from a client.

Mr A.P. Thirumurthy had taken two loans in 2012 for a total of $11,000, in a serious breach of a lawyer's fiduciary duty to a client.

Lawyer Melvin Chan for the Law Society argued for a suspension but Senior Counsel C.R. Rajah, representing Mr Thiru, urged the court to impose a fine as there were no aggravating factors.

The court noted Mr Thiru had substantially repaid the sums even before the complaint was made and found he was genuinely remorseful. It ruled a two-month suspension from next month would suffice as punishment and "yet convey the message that such misconduct was not tolerated".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2016, with the headline 'Judge ticks off lawyers for being late in court'. Print Edition | Subscribe