SINGAPORE - A former lawyer who provided legal advice to some Chinese nationals when he was not authorised to do so was sentenced to five months' jail on Friday (Aug 12).
Leonard Loo Peng Chee, 45, had previously contested the charges of acting as an advocate and solicitor, abetting in a conspiracy with a man to solicit clients on his behalf, and abetting a Chinese national to intentionally obstruct the course of justice.
But after 24 days of his court hearing, he admitted to four charges under the Legal Profession Act in June.
Loo had been disbarred in 2012 for professional misconduct. The Law Society had received 14 complaints from his clients and the courts, covering at least 86 instances of misconduct, including dishonesty.
But in 2013, he gave legal advice to Chinese nationals.
Deterrence is "a particularly relevant consideration" in this case "because the act of providing legal services without having been authorised to do so promises high monetary gain for a relatively small amount of effort", said Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Quek Jing Feng.
Loo's acts, added the prosecution, were "tantamount to deceiving his clients as they would not have engaged him... had they known from the outset that he was not a lawyer".
Besides failing to inform his clients that he was not a lawyer, Loo did not correct them when they addressed him as "Lawyer Loo" in Mandarin.
DPP Quek added that Loo targeted people from China who needed legal assistance, as they were less likely to be aware of his disbarment.
Loo presented his own mitigation on Friday (Aug 12) in a calm and composed manner, appearing in court wearing a dark grey T-shirt, light-coloured pants and black framed spectacles.
He argued that he had made "no misrepresentations" to the authorities that he was a qualified person and had participated in no court proceeding. He said that he also did not explicitly represent himself as a lawyer to his victims.
In mitigation, Loo said: "I'm sincerely apologetic for all I've done, and I will reflect on these issues deeply for the rest of my life."
"The right to practise law is a special privilege," said District Judge Jasvender Kaur, who added that "there is a need to deter unauthorised persons from providing legal services".
She also said the sentencing policy must be to protect potential clients, and did not accept his argument that practising law as a disbarred lawyer warrants a similar punishment as doing so as a qualified lawyer without a certificate.
The success of Loo's business model, said Judge Kaur, depended on clients believing that he was a lawyer and she agreed with the prosecution that his behaviour was tantamount to deception. While Loo said he was prepared to make restitutions to his victims, the judge added that all this had come very late.