Law Society told to review decision on lawyer's case

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 law, 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 council decided against seeking permission to conduct investigations.

In a written judgment yesterday, Justice Aedit Abdullah quashed the council's decision, calling it "unreasonable", and ordered the Law Society to relook the case. "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 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.

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

Her husband died in 2007, leaving the bulk of his wealth to their two daughters and son. The trio had a bitter relationship. Their feud culminated in two sisters of the widow applying to the court to declare that she lacked the mental capacity to manage her assets.

 
 

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

The Law Society's council, after receiving the 2018 complaint, had decided to refer only matters in the prior six years for investigation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2020, with the headline 'Law Society told to review decision on lawyer's case'. Print Edition | Subscribe