Reduced legal cost does not mean overcharging: LawSoc

Law Society logoThe Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) has issued a statement to clarify on the alleged overcharging in legal fees by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC), for services in its case against Dr Susan Lim, who was in turn earlier found guilty of overcharging her patient.

SMC file claims against Dr Lim to the sum of $1.33 million. However, the High Court ruled on 1 October that the legal bills sought by SMC were themselves inflated, and reduced them to $317,000.

SMC’s legal work for the case was led by Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo, a Member of Parliament with the People's Action Party.

Alvin Yeo parl min salary debate - TODAYonline Youtube
Mr Alvin Yeo, in Parliament during the debate on Ministerial salaries.

The statement was issued by Shawn Toh, LawSoc's director of communications, and was published in The Straits Times and Singapore Law Watch.

Mr Loh attempted to clarify how the final legal bills came about, in a process called taxation.

"The winning party's lawyers submit an itemised bill of costs for taxation, which sets out the work done, time spent, lawyers involved and quantum claimed. This bill of costs is subject to the court's detailed scrutiny, and the losing party is entitled to challenge both the overall quantum claimed as well as specific items.

The winning party is entitled to a reasonable amount of all costs reasonably incurred. Any doubts about reasonableness are resolved in favour of the losing party. The quantum determined by the court is an amount that the losing party ought reasonably to pay, and not what a lawyer may reasonably charge the client."

Mr Toh also indicated that most bills submitted for taxation are reduced, and it is commonly accepted that the winning party will seek the highest amount possible in compensation, which the losing party will ask for the greatest reduction possible.

"The court will balance both views and decide," he said. "That a winning party's bill of costs was reduced on taxation should not automatically be construed as overcharging."

Mr Toh added that LawSoc "does not condone overcharging by lawyers", and all complains are referred to independent committees for investigation.

TOC's earlier report has also outlined this complain process, and that it could also be the prerogative for SMC to raise issue with LawSoc, if it felt Mr Alvin Yeo's company, Wong Partnership, has overcharged the Council.

There is, however, no indication to date as to whether SMC or LawSoc intends to take issue with Wong Partnership's supposed overcharging.

As SMC is currently expecting to appeal against the taxation, it is possible that, in the process described by Mr Toh, the fees could be increased again, which SMC might also claim from Dr Lim.