Lee Wee Harry v The Law Society of Singapore

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
Judgment Date03 December 1984
Date03 December 1984
Docket NumberPrivy Council Appeal No 14 of
CourtPrivy Council

[1984] SGPC 7

Privy Council

Lord Keith of Kinkel


Lord Elwyn-Jones


Lord Bridge of Harwich


Lord Brightman


Lord Templeman

Privy Council Appeal No 14 of 1984

Wee Harry Lee
Law Society of Singapore

C Ross Munro QC and Alan Newman (Kingsford Dorman) for the appellant

Chelva Rajah and Imran Hamid (Linklaters & Paines) for the respondent.

Connelly v Director of Public Prosecutions [1964] AC 1254 (folld)

Interpretation Act (Cap 3, 1970 Rev Ed) s 16 (e)

Legal Profession Act (Cap 217, 1970 Rev Ed) ss 84, 85 (consd); ss 87, 91-94, 98

Penal Code (Cap 103, 1970 Rev Ed) s 213

Legal Profession–Disciplinary procedures–Solicitor's misconduct giving rise to two sets of disciplinary proceedings against him–Whether matters of complaint different therefore justifying separate disciplinary proceedings–Whether doctrine of autrefois convict applied–Whether abuse of disciplinary process–Sections 84 and 85 Legal Profession Act (Cap 217, 1970 Rev Ed)

The appellant (“the solicitor”) was the sole proprietor of a law firm. In February 1976, he found that his legal assistant (“Santhiran”) had misappropriated moneys from his firm's clients' account. The solicitor did not report this matter to the Law Society or to the police. By 10 June 1976, Santhiran had made restitution to the solicitor. The solicitor reported Santhiran only in 1977.

Disciplinary proceedings regarding the solicitor's delay in reporting Santhiran (“the delay proceedings”) were commenced by the inquiry committee (“the IC”) on 18 March 1978. Subsequently, a Disciplinary Committee (“the DC”) was appointed and show cause proceedings were instituted. The High Court suspended the solicitor from practice for two years, finding that his conduct in inducing Santhiran to make restitution of the moneys he had misappropriated by not reporting him amounted to grossly improper conduct in the discharge of his professional duty.

Meanwhile, the solicitor was convicted on 7 November 1978 of nine counts under s 213 of the Penal Code (Cap 103, 1970 Rev Ed) for “accepting restitution of property to himself in consideration of his concealing an offence”. On 13 December 1978, the IC commenced the second disciplinary proceedings (“the conviction proceedings”) against the solicitor. The IC was of the view that the solicitor's convictions implied a defect of character making him unfit for the profession. The conviction proceedings culminated in a High Court order suspending the solicitor from practice for another two years.

The solicitor appealed. He argued that both sets of disciplinary proceedings arose from the same conduct and that the gravamen of the complaint against him in each case was either identical or so nearly so as to entitle him either to rely on the principle of autrefois convict or on the closely analogous principle that the unnecessary duplication of proceedings was an abuse of process which the court had an inherent jurisdiction to restrain. The Law Society contended that the element of a bargain between the parties was an essential element of the criminal offence but not of the misconduct alleged in the delay proceedings and therefore provided a crucial distinction in respect of the two matters of complaint which justified separate disciplinary proceedings.

Held, allowing the appeal:

(1) The Law Society's attempt to draw a distinction between the two matters of complaint was a technicality wholly without merit. The inference of a bargain between the parties was inherent in the facts as found by the DC as an essential ingredient in the professional misconduct on which the first show cause proceedings were based: at [22].

(2) The doctrine of autrefois convict and autrefois acquit was applicable to disciplinary proceedings under a statutory code by which a profession was governed. The propositions set out by Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest in Connelly v Director of Public Prosecutions [1964] AC 1254 applied to the present case and enabled the solicitor to rely on the order made against him in the delay proceedings as a complete bar to further disciplinary action against him in the conviction proceedings: at [23] and [24].

(3) If the facts of the present case could not be brought within Lord Devlin's strict test set out in Connelly v Director of Public Prosecutions,the conviction proceedings brought by the Law Society against the solicitor following the delay proceedings were nevertheless an abuse of the disciplinary process: at [27].

Lord Bridge of Harwich

(delivering the judgment of the Board):

1 On 7 November last at the conclusion of the arguments in this appeal, their Lordships announced that they would allow the appeal and set aside the order of the High Court of Singapore dated 31 January 1984 that the appellant be suspended from practice as an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court for a period of two years. Their Lordships now give the reasons for their decision.

2 The disciplinary code governing proceedings against advocates and solicitors in Singapore is found in Pt VII of the Legal Profession Act. The Supreme Court may order a member of the profession “… on due cause shown to be struck off the roll or suspended from practice for any period not exceeding two years or censured”. s 84 (1). Such due cause may be shown by proof, inter alia, that he:

  1. (a) has been convicted of a criminal offence, implying a defect of character which makes him unfit for his profession; or

  2. (b) has been guilty of … grossly improper conduct in the discharge of his professional duty: section 84 (2).

3 The jurisdiction of the court under s 84 is invoked by an originating summons under s 98 instituting what are commonly referred to as show cause proceedings. But at two earlier stages there will have been, firstly, an inquiry into the matter of...

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8 cases
  • The Law Society of Singapore v Edmund Nathan
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 14 July 1998
    ...Re An Advocate and Solicitor [1984] 1 MLJ 331 and by the Privy Council in the appeal therefrom, Lee Wee Harry v Law Society of Singapore [1985] 1 MLJ 1 [1984-1985] SLR 41 . Briefly stated the principle is that a man cannot be tried for a crime in respect of which he has previously been acqu......
  • Lim Keng Chia v Public Prosecutor
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 2 January 1998
    ...which supported such a proposition. He said he did not. He referred me, however, to the case of Harry Lee Wee v Law Society of Singapore [1985] 1 MLJ 1 [1984-1985] SLR 41 , which he said involved an analogous situation. 8.Regrettably, having read the judgment delivered in that case, I could......
  • Lim Mey Lee Susan v Singapore Medical Council
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 26 May 2011
    ...Tiang Hin Jerry v Singapore Medical Council [2000] 1 SLR (R) 553; [2000] 2 SLR 274 (folld) Wee Harry Lee v Law Society of Singapore [1983-1984] SLR (R) 768; [1984-1985] SLR 41 (refd) Yong Vui Kong v AG [2011] 2 SLR 1189 (refd) Interpretation Act (Cap 1, 2002 Rev Ed) ss 16 (1) (c) , 33 Medic......
  • Gunalan s/o Govindarajoo v Public Prosecutor
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 19 July 2000
    ... ... They are the Toa Payoh Girls` Home and the Singapore Boys` Home (`SBH`). Juveniles who are sent to these homes tend to exhibit a greater degree of ... As Lord Bridge observed in Lee Wee Harry v Law Society of Singapore SLR 41 at p 47, in Connelly , Lord Devlin had a different view from ... ...
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