The unjust suspension of senior lawyer Lee Suet Fern from practice has left a “stain on the international reputation of Singapore”, said former London lord mayor Sir David Thomas Rowell Lewis.
In a letter titled “What I know about Singapore’s Lee Suet Fern”, published by South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Monday (30 November), Sir Lewis said that he has been “very disturbed” to read about the Singapore Law Society’s failed attempt to disbar Mrs Lee in relation to her involvement in handling the last will of the city-state’s founding prime minister and her father-in-law Lee Kuan Yew.
Sir Lewis, who is also the former president of City of London Law Society, said that he had known Mrs Lee for four decades and described her as “a senior lawyer of undisputed ability, ethics and experience, and a partner in a major US global law firm”.
He also mentioned that Mr LKY had spoken to him of his trust in and admiration of Mrs Lee during a lunch he hosted for Mr LKY in 2008 in London.
“Who will believe that he would have had any objection to his daughter-in-law helping to arrange for the witnessing of his will, which she did not draft, or that she acted in any way improperly?
“In my view, she has been unjustly suspended, a stain on the international reputation of Singapore,” he remarked.
Sir Lewis also pointed out that the assertion that Mr LKY would have signed anything against his wishes “is fantasy”, as Mr LKY himself was also a lawyer.
“We would be delighted to welcome her back to practise in London where she was trained following her double first at Cambridge [University],” Sir Lewis concluded.
Background of Lee Suet Fern’s suspension
Sir David Lewis’s letter came in the wake of the Court of Three Judges (COTJ) on 20 November ordered the suspension of Mrs Lee from legal practice for 15 months following the alleged conflict of interest present in her involvement with Mr LKY’s last will on 17 December 2013.
Lawyers for the Law Society of Singapore earlier argued for the disbarment of Mrs Lee over her involvement in the preparation and execution of Mr LKY’s final will despite knowing that her husband Lee Hsien Yang stood to benefit from it.
The charges of misconduct were brought against Mrs Lee by the Singapore’s Law Society, following a complaint filed by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to the Society on 4 December 2018.
As mandated by law, the Chief Justice appointed a disciplinary tribunal (DT) to hear the charges against Mrs Lee.
The DT conducted a five-day hearing from 1 to 5 July this year and subsequently found Mrs Lee guilty of the charges made against her.
The tribunal said in a report released on 21 February that Mrs Lee and her husband Mr LHY—the youngest son of the late Mr LKY and one of the executors of his late father’s will—had encouraged Mr LKY to revoke the sixth will in the absence of LKY’s lawyer Kwa Kim Li.
Mrs Lee and Mr LHY had reportedly arranged the revocation of the sixth will with Mr LKY and the execution of a new will — which was to be Mr LKY’s last will — despite Mr LKY’s agreement to execute a codicil to the sixth will.
Given the DT’s findings against Mrs Lee, the COTJ handed down a 15-month suspension to Mrs Lee.
In a statement to the media, Mrs Lee said that she disagrees with the COTJ decision, noting that there was no basis for the case to have even been initiated as this was a private will.
“The Court of Three found that ‘he [Lee Kuan Yew] was content with it [this will]. No complaint had ever been lodged by my father-in-law, Lee Kuan Yew, nor by any of his beneficiaries or his personal lawyer for his various wills, Kwa Kim Li,” she said.
She added, “The Court of Three found ‘no solicitor-client relationship existed’ between Lee Kuan Yew and myself. The Court found there was no dishonesty in my dealings with Lee Kuan Yew and there was no finding that the will was procured by fraud or undue influence.”
The decision by the COTJ cannot be appealed.