Christopher de Souza remains Deputy Speaker despite guilty verdict for assisting client to conceal breach of confidentiality order

Christopher de Souza remains Deputy Speaker despite guilty verdict for assisting client to conceal breach of confidentiality order

SINGAPORE — Last December, Mr Christopher de Souza, the current deputy speaker of Parliament has been found guilty of professional misconduct by a disciplinary tribunal.

Mr de Souza, who is also People’s Action Party(PAP) 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).

Based on the report by the two-member tribunal, which comprised Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan and Mr Pradeep Pillai, found cause of sufficient gravity for Mr de Souza to face disciplinary sanction before the Court of Three Judges on the one charge, but dismissed the other four charges against him.

The tribunal’s report found that Mr de Souza had not made full and frank disclosure to the court when he was aware that his client, Amber Compounding Pharmacy Pte. Ltd and Amber Laboratories Pte. Ltd (collectively referred to as “Amber”), had breached the conditions of a search order.

The tribunal also noted that Mr de Souza knew there was a duty to disclose the prior use of the documents and information.

The case came to light 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.

An Inquiry Committee was convened on 13 January 2021, which later found that Mr de Souza breached his paramount duty to the court and recommended a fine of 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 applied to the Chief Justice on 5 November 2021 for a disciplinary tribunal to be set up, which resulted in the current tribunal hearing the matter.

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.

PAP says, “await verdict of appeal by Mr de Souza” 

The PAP issued a statement in response to the news of Mr de Souza’s possible disciplinary action for improper conduct.

PAP said it would await the verdict by the appeal of Mr Christopher de Souza before it determines the course of action necessary.

“Integrity, honesty and incorruptibility are fundamental to the Party. The standing of each PAP MP reflects on the Party, and the Party expects all MPs to uphold the highest standards.”

Stating that it is aware of the professional disciplinary proceedings against Mr de Souza in his capacity as a lawyer, PAP notes that the tribunal has cleared him of four out of the five charges by the LawSoc.

PAP shared that Mr de Souza has informed it that he denies any wrongdoing and that he will argue his case on the one charge, on appeal before the Court of Three Judges.

Based on the details unveiled in the report, It would be apparent that the lapses are not something that is normal which is why the law society took the approach that they did.

According to Singapore’s Public Service Division, The allowance of a full-time Deputy Speaker is pegged to 15% of a full-time Speaker.

The Speaker’s annual salary package is said to be around S$550,000, a 53% cut from the 2010 salary, while the annual allowance of the Deputy Speaker is around $82,500, a 15% drop from the 2010 allowance. These are on top of their annual allowance of S$196,000 as MPs and their private sector jobs.

Tribunal document reveals exchange between Mr de Souza and client

Amber commenced the High Court Suit (HC suit) on 14 February 2018.

Mr de Souza and Lee & Lee were not the original counsel for Amber – they were represented by Dodwell & Co LLC until 14 December 2018.

On 15 March 2018, Amber applied ex parte for search orders against the Defendants, which was granted on 13 April 2018.

On 31 May 2018, counsel for the parties in the HC Suit provided signed undertakings not to hand over the documents to their respective clients and/or any other three parties.

These undertakings were in addition to the express undertakings given by Amber as a condition for obtaining the Search Orders.

Riddick principle

The search orders granted were subject to an express undertaking by Amber not to use any of the information or documents obtained except for the purposes of the proceedings in the HC Suit, or to inform anyone else of the proceedings in the HC Suit until the trial or further order.

As a matter of law, Amber was also bound by the Riddick principle.

On 18 July 2018, Judicial Commissioner Audrey Lim decided against setting aside the Search Orders, and instead directed that a listing exercise to be carried out whereby Amber’s solicitors were directed to review, itemize and categorize each of the seized documents based on 32 search terms by 8 August 2018, and to provide the Defendants with a list of the seized documents arranged and/or separated by ownership by 22 August 2018.

While reviewing the documents seized pursuant to the Search Orders, Amber formed the view that certain documents were probative of serious criminal offences on the part of the Defendants.

Amber made three reports to MOM and CPIB in 2018, in breach of undertakings in the High Court suit

Amber’s representative, Mr Samuel Sudesh Thaddaeus, made three reports on 31 July 2018, 20 October 2018 and 22 October 2018 to the Ministry of Manpower, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and the Singapore Police Force disclosing ten (10) such documents, in breach of Amber’s undertakings in the High Court suit.

It should be noted that these reports were made after further undertakings on 31 May 2018.

Since the previous solicitors did not give evidence and Samuel Sudesh did not address this in his evidence, and was not cross-examined on this, the tribunal has not considered the breach of the further undertakings of 31 May 2018.

On 5 December 2018, Amber was advised by Mr de Souza and Lee & Lee to file an urgent application for leave, in the civil proceedings, for Amber to preserve and use the documents seized pursuant to the Search Orders for the purposes of making criminal reports.

In a pre-trial conference(PTC) held on 23 January 2019, Mr de Souza requested for an extension to complete the Listing Exercise, without disclosing the breach to the Court.

After the PTC, Mr de Souza requested for an extension of time to complete the Listing Exercise by 5 April 2019 in a letter dated 25 January 2019 to Defendant’s counsels, without mentioning the breach.

The Tribunal report found that Mr de Souza was clearly aware that documents and information had already been used and that his client was determined not to be honest with the Court.

In a response to their client, the Lee & Lee team acknowledged Mr Sudesh’s discomfort with paragraph 24 and rephrased it to convey the same point but in a different tone, as stated in their reply on 22 January 2019:

Paragraph 24 was re-drafted to read as follows:

On 22 January 2019, Mr Sudesh provided “further amendments to the wording” of the supporting affidavit. However, these amendments resulted in significant changes to paragraph 24:

Mr de Souza caught the amendments made by Mr Sudesh and expressed his disapproval in an email dated 22 January 2019.

On the following day, Mr de Souza further questioned the accuracy of Mr Sudesh’s amendments in an email, pointing out that documents had already been disclosed to the various authorities. This made Mr Sudesh’s proposed amendment inaccurate.

After Mr de Souza pointed out the inaccuracy of Mr Sudesh’s amendments, the Lee & Lee team revised the paragraph in question. The final version of the supporting affidavit was sent to Mr Sudesh on 25 January 2019.

 

According to the disciplinary tribunal’s report, the Lee & Lee team maintained an unyielding position on the disclosure of Amber’s breach of undertakings in the supporting affidavit, as evident from the chronology of amendments.

“Such an unflinching attitude was maintained by Mr de Souza even though he was of the knowledge that the defendants had not yet been contacted by the authorities. At no point in time did the team, including Mr de Souza, waver in their position that the fact of Amber’s previous breach must be disclosed to the court.”

The report said even when Mr Sudesh raised a ruckus, the team acquiesced to the extent of re-wording the paragraph but without losing the essence of its content.

When Mr Sudesh attempted further amendments, Mr de Souza promptly identified them as inappropriate due to their false impression.

The Tribunal concluded that Amber’s failure to fully and frankly disclose amounted to suppression of evidence, and Mr de Souza, as a party to and facilitator of the suppression, assisted in the act by filing the supporting affidavit.

Given the seriousness of Mr de Souza’s actions, it is puzzling he is allowed to continue holding the position of Deputy Speaker of Parliament and not even a temporary suspension pending the verdict of the Court of Three Judges.

Let us not forget how the PAP passed a motion in Parliament to have the Workers’ Party MPs recuse themselves from the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council’s (AHTC) financial affairs and to remove Ms Sylvia Lim as vice-chairman of the town council, pending a court appeal over the findings that the WP MPs have breached their fiduciary duties in the management of AHTC.

Of course, we now know that the WP MPs have been largely vindicated of the allegations against them but still, why the double standards by PAP on Mr de Souza and WP?

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