Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill [Bill No. 16/2018]
Sir, I stand in support of this Bill.
Lawyers I’ve spoke to welcome in particular three changes that have been proposed.
The first relates to the appointment of law experts in cases before the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), a move, no doubt, put in place to improve the quality of arguments raised in the SICC on foreign law issues.
The second relates to the establishment of an Unclaimed Money Fund to be administered by the Law Society of Singapore. The amendment will result in certain monies that are unclaimed being put to use in amongst other things, pro bono services.
Finally, there is the introduction of the imposition of remedial measures upon a regulated legal practitioner by the Council of the Law Society of Singapore or the Disciplinary Tribunal.
Previously, the options were limited to the issuance of a warning, a reprimand or the imposition of a fine.
These were aimed at censuring and punishing the errant regulated legal practitioner and may not have addressed root causes for the impeached conduct.
While the precise type of remedial measures that may be imposed will be set out in further subsidiary legislation, it is heartening to see that there is now another option available, which is not entirely punitive in nature.
However, it is with this last change that I now seek clarifications.
Imposition of remedial measures
The Bill proposes to allow an Inquiry Committee to recommend to the Council of the Law Society of Singapore that a penalty, warning, reprimand, and/ or requirement of compliance with remedial measures be imposed on a practitioner, without any formal investigation by a Disciplinary Tribunal.
The Council of the Law Society can then make such a determination under the new Section 87 of the Act.
Significantly, the amendment to Section 88(1) proposes to make the imposition of a penalty, warning and/or reprimand mandatory by changing the wording to “must give” from the original “may give”.
Lawyers I’ve spoken to are concerned about the mandatory imposition because this seems to render the practitioner’s opportunity to be heard on the matter under Section 88(3) futile.
In the interest of fairness and in line with the right to be heard, the practitioner really ought to be able to make her or his case on the matter and Section 88(3) should remain.
Can the Minister clarify how Section 88(3) is consistent with the mandatory imposition under Section 88(1)?
Further, I note that the imposition of the remedial measures by Council is sought to be introduced by way of a new Section 88(1A), but Section 88(3) of the Act remains unchanged.
This seems to suggest that a practitioner will not be heard before remedial measures are imposed upon him by Council.
Can the Minister clarify whether a practitioner also has the right to be heard before Council imposes remedial measures on him in the same spirit of fairness?
While we welcome the introduction of measures that focus on remediation rather than punishment, I hope the Minister can clarify whether the right of the practitioner to be heard will be preserved. Sir notwithstanding the above clarifications, I stand in support of the Bill.
Under the current disciplinary framework for lawyers, the range of disciplinary measures available to the Law Society Council include issuing a warning or reprimand to the lawyer, and/or ordering the lawyer to pay a penalty.
a. In more egregious and serious cases of misconduct, the Court of 3 Judges can order that a lawyer be suspended or struck off the roll of advocates and solicitors.
This Bill introduces more nuanced and calibrated options to the range of disciplinary measures.
a. The amendments seek to deal with the root causes of certain types of misconduct, reduce recidivism, as well as widen the range of measures available to deal with less serious disciplinary matters.
Clauses 2, 22, 23, 24 and 26 to 29 of the Bill thus expand the range of measures that may be imposed during disciplinary proceedings to include remedial measures.
a. Such remedial measures can be imposed in addition to, or in lieu of, the current options which are available to the Law Society Council.
b. The amendments will enable Council to prescribe remedial measures such as those which involve training, counselling and other means of rehabilitation.
c. This does not mean that serious cases of misconduct will be dealt with lightly. Rather, it strengthens our disciplinary framework for lawyers with a broader range of disciplinary options that can be imposed together with other existing measures, or in lieu of, where appropriate.