The lawyer who was not qualified to supervise legal trainees and even rejected one’s application to be called to the Singapore Bar, was a former Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP).
For those who are unaware of this legal dispute, it all started when lawyer Tan Jeh Yaw, who supervised the six-month training contract of Kuoh Hao Teng, made an unusual decision to reject the latter’s application for admission to the Bar in 2019.
Mr Tan cited that Mr Kuoh played computer games and watched movies while at work and did not finish the tasks assigned to him. However, the trainee had denied these allegations.
However, in a surprising twist of events, Mr Tan, the sole proprietor of his law firm Tan Jeh Yaw LLC, was found to not own all the necessary qualifications to hire trainees in the first place.
This means that even if Mr Tan had not rejected Mr Kuoh’s application, the trainee still could not have been admitted under that application.
Under legal profession rules, it is required for supervising lawyer to have had a practising certificate for at least five years out of the seven years before taking in trainees to supervise.
But Mr Kuoh’s legal counsel, Luo Ling Ling, found out that Mr Tan had a practising certificate in force for only two years and 11 months during the time Mr Kuoh worked in his company as a trainee.
According to Mr Tan’s resume on his company’s website, it noted that he was once a “Deputy Public Prosecutor/State Counsel with the Attorney-General’s Chambers, government ministries, statutory boards and corporate counsel in the private organisations”.
The dispute between the supervising lawyer and his trainee started when Mr Kuoh completed his six months traineeship under Mr Tan in 11 July 2019.
On his last day at work, Mr Kuoh submitted the documents for his application, which included checklist of areas of training, to Mr Tan, who signed them on 26 July that year.
However, Mr Kuoh felt that Mr Tan did not checked the list correctly. As such, he resubmitted an amended list which he felt was a better reflection of what he did at the firm. He then sent this new list to Mr Tan.
Given that Mr Kuoh did not receive any feedback from Mr Tan regarding the changes, the legal trainee then proceeded to submit the documents on 29 July 2019.
Later on 14 August 2019, Mr Tan filed an objection to Mr Kuoh’s application and the amended list was highlighted as a matter of contention.
In Oct 2019, the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) referred the matter to the Police to be involved, following another Police report by Mr Tan in the following month and Mr Kuoh was given a stern warning for forgery by the Police.
The legal trainee then submitted representations to the AGC to retract the stern warning as he said that this incident was a “misunderstanding”.
On 27 April 2020, Mr Kuoh started a new training stint in another lawfirm, in which he received excellent report from his new supervisor. Mr Kuoh then withdrew his first application to the Bar and submitted a second one.
However, Mr Tan continued to object the new application.
Following this, Justice Choo Han Teck granted Mr Kuoh’s second application and admitted him to the Bar after being informed that Mr Tan had withdrawn his objections.
Mr Tan purportedly said to reject all applications by Mr Kuoh
If that’s not all, Ms Luo also revealed in a Facebook post that Mr Tan allegedly told her client in January this year that he will object any of Mr Kuoh’s new admission application, and wished to be informed of the legal trainee’s future applications as “he would like to object to every one of them”.
In regards to Ms Luo’s investigations which revealed that Mr Tan was, in fact, an unqualified supervising lawyer, Justice Choo asked in grounds of decision released on Friday (9 April) whether the reasons provided by Mr Tan for his objections were true and whether other trainees of Mr Tan have been admitted to the Bar.
“It is remarkable that an application for admission to the Bar should raise so many questions yet yield so few answers,” the judge said.
He added that nearly 100 such applications are made on a yearly basis and “almost all pass uneventfully”.
In a report by The Straits Times (ST), the AGC pointed out that it takes a serious view of the questions raised by Justice Choo. Its spokesman noted: “We are looking into the matter and will take all appropriate action.”