Lawyer suspended for allowing paralegal to act as lawyer, sharing fees with him

19-May-2020 Intellasia | Yahoo News Singapore | 6:02 AM Print This Post

A lawyer was given a three-month suspension from practising by a Court of Three Judges on Monday (18 May) for failing to supervise a paralegal who later went on to represent himself as a legal advocate and solicitor.

Jonathan Tan See Leh, a consultant at Whitefield Law, had earlier admitted to failing to exercise adequate supervision over his employee, Colin Craig Lowell Phan Siang Loong, and for sharing fees for legal work with him. Both actions are said to be in violation of the Legal Profession Act.

Tan stopped practising law from April last year.

The virtual hearing was brought on by the Law Society (LawSoc), which argued that Tan’s actions were grave enough to warrant disciplinary action.

Siraj Omar, the lawyer representing LawSoc, said that Tan’s actions enabled an unauthorised person to falsely represent himself as a lawyer to the public, and receive payment for legal work.

“These breaches go to heart of what is sacrosanct and that is the need to protect the public and ensure that legal advice is (properly given by) authorised persons,” he said.

If allowed to go unchecked, actions such as Tan’s would erode public confidence, said Siraj, who sought a three-month suspension for Tan.

Tan, who represented himself, did not dispute the recommendations and did not argue his case.

A lawyer since 1998, he hired Phan as a paralegal in January 2015. Phan, though formerly a lawyer, had failed to renew his practising certificate a month before. Tan was aware of this at the time.

Between January and February 2015, Phan sent five e-mails to three persons in which he represented himself to be an advocate and solicitor. Tan was copied in the emails.

Phan then shared around 50 per cent of the fees for the legal work he performed with Tan, subject to the cases he handled.

During his hearing before a disciplinary tribunal, Tan had admitted to the facts set out by LawSoc but had argued that Phan was not a lawyer only because of a technicality his failure to renew his practising certificate. Tan also said that his failure to supervise Phan was not sufficiently serious.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang and Justice Woo Bih Li said on Monday, however, that the fact that Phan was not a lawyer “did not lead inexorably to the conclusion that (Tan’s) misconduct was any less serious”.

In its oral judgement, the panel found that Tan had facilitated Phan’s misconduct by allowing the latter to function as a lawyer.

“(Tan’s) misconduct is not a simple case of negligence, but a blatant disregard of the professional and ethical standards that are meant to preserve the dignity of the legal profession and to protect the public,” said Judge of Appeal Phang, on behalf of the panel.

The judges took into consideration three mitigating factors in Tan’s case:, that Tan admitted to the facts without qualification; that he had no history in similar violations; and that he voluntarily ceased practice from 1 April last year, which the panel took as an indication of his remorse over his actions.

“We note that there is no aggravating factor in the form of harm caused to any of (Tan’s) clients as a result of his misconduct,” said Judge of Appeal Phang.

In imposing a three-month suspension on Tan, the panel said that a fine was not appropriate as Tan had known that Phan did not have a practising certificate but had entered a fee-sharing agreement with him.

The LawSoc also sought $8,000 in costs, which Tan did not object to.


Category: Singapore

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