SINGAPORE — Mr Christopher de Souza, a lawyer in Lee & Lee, has been found guilty of professional misconduct by a disciplinary tribunal.
Mr de Souza, who is also the current deputy speaker of Parliament and People’s Action Party Member of Parliament for Holland–Bukit Timah GRC, was found guilty of one out of five charges put against him by the Singapore Law Society (LawSoc).
This is related to his conduct while he was acting for his clients, Amber Compounding Pharmacy and Amber Laboratories, in a High Court suit filed in 2018.
Based on the report by the two-member tribunal, which comprised Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan and Mr Pradeep Pillai, Mr de Souza had not made full and frank disclosure to the court when he was aware that his client had breached the conditions of a search order.
Instead, he helped his client, Mr Samuel Sudesh Thaddaeus, prepare and file an affidavit in January 2019 that did not exhibit certain documents which would have revealed that Amber had breached its undertaking.
“The crux of the matter is what the respondent should have done upon discovery of the use of the documents and information by Amber, and specifically whether he should have informed the court and opposing counsel of the breach of the undertakings,” said the tribunal in its report which was published on Tuesday.
The tribunal also noted that Mr de Souza knew there was a duty to disclose the prior use of the documents and information.
The improper conduct was discovered following observations made by the Court of Appeal in its judgement on appeals regarding the High Court judge’s decision on the use of documents obtained from the search order.
“It was only on 12 February 2019, when the defendants were served with the present summons and the supporting affidavit, that they first became aware of Amber’s intention to use the Documents for the extraneous purpose of supporting its reports to the authorities.
Shortly thereafter, on 11 March 2019, in their first affidavit filed in response to the present summons for leave, the defendants made clear that they “have never waived their privilege against self-incrimination.”
In our judgment, it is clear from the above sequence of events that the defendants had been led by Amber to form the impression that the seized documents belonging to the defendants would be returned upon completion of the Listing Exercise and as a corollary, would not be used for any extraneous purpose, such as to assist in unsolicited criminal investigations.
Once the defendants gained notice of the extraneous purpose for which Amber was seeking to utilise the Documents, it became apparent to them, for the first time, that there was a reasonable, rather than fanciful, risk that they could be incriminated by the Documents which they had handed over to Amber pursuant to the search orders.”
The case was then referred to an Inquiry Committee which was convened on 13 January 2021. In July 2021, the committee found that Mr de Souza breached his paramount duty to the court and recommended that he be fined S$2,000.
The committee, however, did not believe that a formal investigation by a disciplinary tribunal was necessary.
However, the Council of the Law Society disagreed and applied to the Chief Justice on 5 November 2021 for a disciplinary tribunal to be set up. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon appointed the tribunal to hear and investigate the matter on 19 November 2021.
After finding that one of the charges against Mr de Souza was made out, the tribunal ordered him to pay costs of S$18,000 to LawSoc, as well as the society’s reasonable disbursements.
The tribunal found there was cause of sufficient gravity for Mr de Souza to face disciplinary sanction before the Court of Three Judges on one of the five charges brought against him by LawSoc. The tribunal dismissed the other four charges.
When contacted for comments by the media, Mr de Souza’s lawyers said “there is no question” that their client had acted with “utmost integrity in the conduct of this matter at all times” and noted that four of the five charges were dismissed
“As regards the remaining charge, this is a matter now before the Court of Three Judges and it is not appropriate for us to comment on the merits at this juncture. Suffice to say that we will strenuously resist it and argue that it too should be dismissed.”
Possible sanctions under the Legal Profession Act range from suspension, fines and being struck off the roll.