Susan Lim saga

Susan Lim saga: Husband appeals against High Court ruling

General surgeon Susan Lim came under the spotlight for overcharging the late sister of the Queen of Brunei in 2007.
General surgeon Susan Lim came under the spotlight for overcharging the late sister of the Queen of Brunei in 2007.

Retired banker acted 'on his own conscience' when he filed complaint to the Law Society

The husband of prominent surgeon Susan Lim acted "on his own conscience" when he filed a complaint to the Law Society - saying that the opposing lawyers in disciplinary proceedings against her had inflated their fees.

This emerged in Singapore's highest court yesterday when Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang asked lawyer Abraham Vergis, who is representing Dr Lim's husband Deepak Sharma, why the complaint had been made by his client instead of Dr Lim herself.

Mr Abraham Vergis replied: "He explained that he felt that what the lawyers had done was wrong and he was acting on his own conscience to make the complaint."

Mr Vergis noted that Dr Lim had filed an affidavit stating she was aware of and endorsed her husband's complaint. Mr Sharma, a retired banker, is challenging the decision of a Law Society review committee to dismiss his complaint alleging that Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo and Ms Melanie Ho, of WongPartnership, had overcharged his wife.

Dr Lim had been ordered to pay the legal costs for the Singapore Medical Council after she lost a court battle to block a disciplinary hearing against her - over $24 million she had billed a patient in 2007.

She was eventually suspended for three years and fined $10,000 on 94 charges of overcharging the sister of the Queen of Brunei, who died of cancer in 2007.

WongPartnership put up three bills detailing the fees of the two lawyers, amounting to about $1 million. The fees were brought down to $340,000 by an assistant registrar, and finally adjusted to $370,000 by a High Court judge.

In 2014, Mr Sharma, who had funded Dr Lim's legal expenses, complained to the Law Society against Mr Yeo and Ms Ho for "gross overcharging" which amounted to improper conduct.

A two-member review committee dismissed his complaints, except for one against Ms Ho. Dissatisfied, Mr Sharma asked the High Court to quash the decision and to order a fresh review of his complaints.

He argued that the review committee had erred in deciding his complaints were lacking in substance. He also contended that since the costs had been significantly reduced by the court, the review committee should have referred the case for an inquiry to determine if there had been professional misconduct.

The Attorney-General's Chambers, which was also involved, said this was not a case of "gross overcharging" of a client by a lawyer as it involved a "party and party" situation in which lawyers for the winning party are making a monetary claim for costs from the losing party.

Mr Sharma's application was dismissed last May. Justice Woo Bih Li found the review committee had not made errors of law and was entitled to dismiss his complaint.

In his judgment, Justice Woo said a significant reduction will not necessarily mean there is gross over-claiming amounting to misconduct. In any case, a significant reduction could never in and of itself be sufficient to constitute misconduct.

Yesterday, Mr Sharma appealed against Justice Woo's decision.

Mr Vergis argued that the significant reduction requires an explanation from the lawyers involved before any determination can be made on whether "an actionable misconduct is disclosed".

The Law Society, represented by Mr Christopher Anand Daniel, and the AGC, represented by Mr Khoo Boo Jin, argued that Justice Woo's findings should be upheld.

The Court of Appeal will give its decision at a later date.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2017, with the headline 'Husband appeals against High Court ruling'. Print Edition | Subscribe