Following a Disciplinary Tribunal’s (DT) decision to find Lee Suet Fern guilty of professional misconduct, the next move is for the Law Society to apply for a show-cause hearing in front of a Court of Three Judges.
In a report released last Friday (21 February), a Disciplinary Tribunal appointed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has found lawyer Lee Suet Fern guilty of grossly improper professional misconduct in handling the final will of Singapore’ founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew (LKY). She was found guilty under section 83(2)(b) of the Legal Professional Act.
The tribunal stated that it found Mrs Lee’s – wife of the youngest son of late Mr Lee, Lee Hsien Yang (LHY) – actions adequate enough for the case to be brought to the court, which is highest disciplinary body to handle misconduct among lawyers.
The Law Society filed the case against Mrs Lee, and it has one month from 18 February, the day the tribunal released its decision, to make its application to the High Court.
A spokesperson of Law Society told The Straits Times that based on his experience, it could take a minimum of six months from the date of filling before the Court of Three Judges hear the case.
If the charges are made out, Mrs Lee could be fined, suspended or disbarred as a lawyer. However, the court can absolve her if the charges are not made out.
The spokesperson explained that the Court of Three Judges will go through the entire proceedings during the show-cause hearing.
It is then up to Mrs Lee’s lawyers to point out that the findings and decision by the DT were wrong.
But, once the decision of the Court of Three Judges is made, then it cannot be appealed, the spokesperson noted.
Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran said in a statement yesterday (24 February), “At that hearing, the court is empowered to determine any question necessary for the purpose of doing justice in the case, including any question as to the correctness, legality or propriety of the determination of the DT, or the regularity of the DT proceedings.”
As to whether Mrs Lee can request for a judicial review of the tribunal’s decision, the spokesperson said that under Section 97 of the Legal Professional Act, there is no right for cases that’s severe enough to receive disciplinary action to do so.
“The Court of Three Judges is the only tribunal that will review and impose a sanction if so warranted,” said the spokesperson.
The case concerning Mrs Lee revolves around the role she played in preparing and executing the final will of late Mr Lee signed on 17 December 2013. Mr Lee passed away on 23 March 2015.
In January 2019, the Attorney-General’s Chambers made a complaint of 500 pages to Law Society about Mrs Lee for a possible professional misconduct over handling of late Mr Lee’s final will.
Deputy Attorney-General Lionel Yee went on to ask for the case to be referred to a disciplinary tribunal.
In a Judgement released last Friday (21 February), it was noted that Mrs Lee and her husband Lee Hsien Yang – son of the late Mr Lee and an executor of his will – had encouraged Mr LKY to revoke the sixth will in the absence of his lawyer Ms Kwa Kim Li who had drafted all of Mr LKY’s previous wills between 2011 to 2012.
The tribunal said that Mrs Lee did not inform Mr LKY that the draft last will included a demolition clause not present in the sixth will nor did she confirm with him if he wanted certain other changes to be made in the first place.
However, Mrs Lee noted in her defence that she had informed Ms Kwa via email explicitly about the signing of the last will, “In fact, this is just going back to his 2011 will so it supercedes all. He read it extremely carefully before signing”.
Additionally, the tribunal noted that Mrs Lee did not advise Mr LKY to seek independent legal advice pertaining to the matter, especially given her own possible conflict of interest as Mr LHY’s wife and the absence of Ms Kwa. The final will, said the tribunal, increased Mr LHY’s share in Mr LKY’s estate.
The tribunal also noted the issue of whether Mrs Lee had properly and fully explained the final will to her father-in-law and it also addresses his condition at the time of signing. LKY was, after all, 90-years-old when the will was signed and passed away only 15 months after.
On this note, however, Mrs Lee explained that LKY was fully aware of her involvement and chose to proceed.
Ms Suet Fern has said during the tribunal: “I think Papa was his own best lawyer. He knew what he wanted.
The DT’s 206-page report from last week also pointed out that Mrs Lee’s husband’s conduct was “equally deceitful”.
Following the verdict of the DT, Mr LHY in a Facebook post yesterday shared Mrs Lee’s comments regarding the tribunal’s report.
Mrs Lee said: “I disagree with the Disciplinary Tribunal’s report and will fight this strongly when it is heard in open court.”
“Any member of the public can obtain the entire record of the closed-door proceedings of the Tribunal from the Law Society. I urge the public to look at these and come to their own independent conclusions,” she added.