Widow's son appeals against court decision not to order probe of lawyer

The son of an elderly widow with a $200 million fortune is appealing against a court decision not to order an investigation into a lawyer's conduct in transactions involving his mother.

The High Court had in January ordered the Law Society to reconsider its decision not to refer the lawyer for investigation, instead of giving an outright order for the lawyer to be investigated.

The son is also appealing against the court's decision not to order the Law Society to pay him $38,000 in legal costs and disbursements.

On Thursday, the High Court judge gave written reasons for his decision on costs, which are generally paid by the losing party to the winning party.

Justice Aedit Abdullah said it was not appropriate to award costs in this case, considering that he had ruled against the son on a number of points and that the order he gave was narrower than what the man had sought. The judge also accepted that the Law Society was performing a public regulatory function.

None of the individuals in the case was named in the judgments.

The widow is from a prominent Singapore family and had inherited close to $200 million by 2010, after her father's death six years before.

Her husband died in 2007, leaving the bulk of his wealth to their two adult daughters as well as their son, who is the middle child.

The three children had a bitter relationship and their feuds vexed their mother. That prompted two sisters of the widow to apply to the court to declare that the widow lacked the mental capacity to manage her assets.

In 2015, the Court of Appeal found that the widow's younger daughter and son-in-law had "exercised undue influence" over the woman, who was then 80 years old. Professional deputies were also appointed to act for the widow.

In 2018, the widow's son lodged a complaint with the Law Society, alleging misconduct on the part of the lawyer who had advised his mother on establishing a trust in 2010.

The lawyer had also spoken on her behalf in meetings with two banks, in attempts to transfer her assets to a third bank where the trust was set up.

 
 
 

As the alleged misconduct took place more than six years before the complaint was made, the Law Society's council was required by law to obtain the court's permission to refer the lawyer for investigation.

The council decided against seeking permission, and the woman's son sought a judicial review by the High Court to challenge this.

In a judgment in January, Justice Aedit quashed the council's decision, saying it focused on irrelevant factors and failed to consider relevant factors. The proper course should only be to compel the council to properly consider the relevant factors, the judge said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 22, 2020, with the headline 'Widow's son appeals against court decision not to order probe of lawyer'. Print Edition | Subscribe