Lawyer suspended for humiliating molestation victim

During a 2015 trial, Mr Edmund Wong repeatedly asked a molestation victim if she thought she was attractive, then scrutinised her chest.
During a 2015 trial, Mr Edmund Wong repeatedly asked a molestation victim if she thought she was attractive, then scrutinised her chest.ST FILE PHOTO

A defence lawyer who went on a "demeaning" line of questioning of a molestation victim, including staring at her breasts, was suspended for the maximum of five years yesterday for professional misconduct.

The Court of Three Judges, the highest disciplinary body for the legal profession, had harsh words for Mr Edmund Wong Sin Yee's "disgraceful" conduct and his "irrelevant and wholly impermissible" line of questioning, which Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon noted was intended to humiliate the victim.

Mr Wong, who was not present in court, maintains he had not done anything wrong, which the court said weighed against him. "It is extremely difficult to reform one who does not appreciate the error of his ways," said the Chief Justice.

Mr Wong, who runs his own firm S Y Wong Law Chambers, had defended a 24-year-old student from China who was accused of brushing his forearm against the breast of a 22-year-old woman on an MRT train in July 2014.

While he was cross-examining the victim at the trial in 2015, Mr Wong repeatedly asked if she thought she was attractive. He also made her stand up, whereupon he scrutinised her chest.

To the victim's objections, Mr Wong retorted he would be asking even more insulting questions.

When the district judge intervened, Mr Wong sought to justify his line of questioning, saying he was trying to establish if his client had been tempted to molest her.

Xu Jiadong was found guilty and jailed for five months.

The district judge dedicated six pages of his grounds of decision to Mr Wong's "unacceptable" cross-examination. The Attorney-General's Chambers lodged a complaint with the Law Society.

A disciplinary tribunal found that Mr Wong had breached professional conduct rules and referred his case to the court.

Yesterday, his lawyer, Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, said that Mr Wong's focus on attractiveness was aimed at advancing the case that the woman was so plain the accused had not even noticed her.

The argument did not go down well with the court. "Are we in the business of beauty contests?" asked Chief Justice Menon.

Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash asked where he had got the idea that only attractive women were molested. She added that it was not for Mr Wong to assess the victim's attractiveness but for his client to say so in his testimony.

Judge of Appeal Steven Chong questioned if anyone accused of molestation had ever successfully defended himself by proving that the victim was "not sufficiently attractive" to be molested.

Mr Wong, who was called to the Bar in 1998, has a long list of past convictions going back more than 20 years. This includes incidents of violence, drug consumption and abuse of public servants.

He was also detained under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act between 2005 and 2012. He resumed practice in 2015.

The court said the totality of his conduct showed that he had "no meaningful appreciation" of how a lawyer should conduct himself.

Although the question was raised as to whether he was fit to practise law, the judges said they had not struck him off the rolls as many of his violent antecedents were "somewhat dated".

The suspension takes effect in two weeks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2018, with the headline 'Lawyer suspended for humiliating molestation victim'. Print Edition | Subscribe