Neither is the Law Society “statutorily obliged” to provide members of the public copies of lawyer Lee Suet Fern’s entire Disciplinary Tribunal proceedings nor does it act as “a repository” of the proceedings, said the society in response to media queries on Tue (3 Mar).
The comments were made in reference to Mrs Lee’s statement — relayed by her husband Lee Hsien Yang in a Facebook post on 23 Feb — on how members of the public “can obtain the entire record of the closed-door proceedings of the Tribunal from the Law Society”.
Aiming “to correct a lingering public misperception”, the Law Society said members of the public can instead “buy a copy of the proceedings for a fee from the DT Secretariat”.
“In short, the DT Secretariat is the proper port of call to make public the record of the DT proceedings pursuant to Section 93(6) of the Legal Profession Act,” said the society.
The DT Secretariat is set up by the Supreme Court to provide administrative support to a tribunal.
The Law Society also noted that it has published the DT’s report in the February 2020 issue of the Singapore Law Gazette — which it has made accessible online — in line with its public information duties stipulated in the LPA.
Mrs Lee did not confirm with Mr Lee Kuan Yew if he wanted certain changes to be made, did not brief him thoroughly on provisions of the draft last will: Disciplinary Tribunal report on finding Mrs Lee guilty of professional misconduct in handling Mr LKY’s will
Mrs Lee’s case began when the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) referred her to the Law Society for a possible professional misconduct case.
The AGC stated that Mrs Lee had prepared the last will of Singapore’s founding prime minister and her father-in-law Lee Kuan Yew and had arranged for Mr LHY to execute it, despite her husband being one of its beneficiaries. The last will resulted in Mr LHY’s share in the late Mr Lee’s estate being increased.
AGC’s complaint followed the debate held in Parliament in 2017 in which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong — the brother of Mr LHY and Dr Lee Wei Ling, also one of the executors of the will — denied allegations put forth by his siblings in a public statement.
The will that took effect in 2015 was not contested by PM Lee.
The AGC said it had written to Mrs Lee several times to seek her explanation on her involvement in preparing the last will, but Mrs Lee did not answer its questions.
The DT, among its other findings, said that Mrs Lee did not seek to confirm if Mr Lee Kuan Yew wanted certain other changes to be made — by carefully going through the provisions in the draft of the last will — in the first place.
Mrs Lee, said the tribunal, “gave the briefest of advice to Mr Lee, and did not alert Mr Lee to all the differences between what Mr Lee had earlier wanted and what the last will actually provided for”.
Additionally, the DT 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.
Mrs Lee’s conduct, according to the tribunal, was in violation of a solicitor’s duties, particularly considering that Mr LHY was going to partially benefit from the will.
The final will, said the tribunal, increased Mr LHY’s share in Mr LKY’s estate.
Equal division of founding PM Lee Kuan Yew’s estate “not a new idea”: Mrs Lee Suet Fern’s lawyers
Mrs Lee’s lawyers in their defence submissions previously highlighted that the late Mr LKY had already indicated his desire to divide the shares equally in his original 2011 will, and had discussed making changes to his will with his lawyer Ms Kwa Kim Li from “at least November 2013”.
The lawyers highlighted that Mr LKY’s decision to revert to equally dividing the shares was made long before Mrs Lee was involved in the preparation of the will, and it was Ms Kwa who had advised him on the terms of his will.
“Mrs Lee merely forwarded what she thought was the original 2011 Will to Mr LKY, and copied it to Ms Kwa to be engrossed,” they said.
Noting that Mr LKY was a “sophisticated and shrewd individual with a starred double first in law from Cambridge University and experience of running a country for well over half a century”, the lawyers argued that Mr LKY “knew exactly what he wanted” and “was accustomed to having his instructions carried out without delay”.
Ms Kwa had, according to Mrs Lee’s lawyers, promised in a previous email that she would have prepared something for Mr Lee by the end of the week on 15 Dec. However, she had not done so.
It was thus evident, according to the lawyers, that Mr LKY himself could not wait for Ms Kwa any longer, as seen in Mr LKY’s instruction to Mr LHY — sent via email — to not wait for Ms Kwa and instead to have him sign the will, whether in Mrs Lee’s office or “from any other office”.
Further, the above also illustrated that Mr LKY was happy to execute the will before any solicitor, according to the defence.
Additionally, the question of conflict of interest — particularly regarding the Law Society’s suggestion that Mrs Lee had a role in helping increased Mr LHY’s share in the late Mr Lee’s estate — did not make sense, as the equal division of shares stated in the last will meant that Mr LHY’s share was in fact reduced.
Mrs Lee said that she disagreed with the tribunal’s findings and “will fight this strongly when it is heard in open court”.
The Law Society yesterday said: “After the Law Society’s show cause application in the Supreme Court comes up for hearing before the Court of Three Judges (an open court hearing), such court proceedings will become public.”
The Court of Three Judges is Singapore’s apex disciplinary body in dealing with lawyers’ misconduct.
Should the court find Mrs Lee guilty of the professional misconduct charges made against her, she may be subject to a fine, or be suspended or disbarred from her profession.