Law Society to rethink decision not to probe lawyer acting for wealthy widow: High Court

The woman's son sought a judicial review by the High Court when the society's council decided against seeking permission to conduct investigations.
The woman's son sought a judicial review by the High Court when the society's council decided against seeking permission to conduct investigations.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The High Court has directed the Law Society to reconsider its decision not to refer a lawyer for investigation, after a complaint was made about his conduct in transactions involving an elderly widow who had a fortune of nearly $200 million.

The alleged misconduct took place more than six years before the complaint was lodged by the woman's son in April 2018.

Under the Legal Profession Act, if a complaint is brought more than six years after the alleged misconduct, the Law Society council has to obtain the court's permission to refer the allegations for investigation.

The woman's son sought a judicial review by the High Court when the society's council decided against seeking permission to conduct investigations.

In a written judgment on Friday (Jan 3), Justice Aedit Abdullah quashed the council's decision, calling it "unreasonable", and ordered the Law Society to take a relook at the case .

He said: "The reasons provided by the council focus entirely on the applicant's failure to bring the complaint sooner and appear to have neglected to consider the merits of the complaint entirely."

The lawyer had advised the widow on establishing a trust on Oct 26, 2010. He also spoke on her behalf in subsequent meetings with two banks, in attempts to transfer her assets to a third bank where the trust was set up.

The widow's son filed a complaint against the lawyer on April 17, 2018, following a landmark judgment by the Court of Appeal in May 2015 that his mother, who was then 80 years old, did not have the mental capacity to make decisions about her assets.

None of the parties are named in either judgment, with the lawyer identified only as "Mr L".

The woman is from a prominent Singapore family. When her father died in 2004, she inherited a fortune that was close to $200 million by 2010.

Her husband died in 2007, leaving the bulk of his wealth to their two daughters and son, who was the middle child.

 
 
 

The trio had a bitter relationship, which worsened after his death.

Their feud culminated in two sisters of the widow applying to the court to declare that she lacked the mental capacity to manage her financial affairs.

The apex court concluded that her younger daughter and son-in-law had "exercised undue influence" over her, and professional deputies were appointed to act for the widow in December 2015.

On April 17, 2018, her son filed a complaint with the Law Society against Mr L.

However, the Society's council decided to refer only matters in the prior six years for investigation.

An inquiry committee eventually decided no investigation of the lawyer was necessary for the timeframe being considered.

The son applied for a judicial review of both those decisions.