Singapore — In response to comments by a former Lord Mayor of London in support of Mrs Lee Suet Fern following her 15-month suspension from practising law, the president of the Law Society of Singapore has outlined the basis for the suspension and pointed out that “personal, anecdotal recollections cannot trump a judicial verdict” and that “prosecution is not persecution”.
In a letter to the South China Morning Post (SCMP) published on Nov 30, Sir David Lewis, a former Lord Mayor of London and a former president of City of London Law Society, had expressed concern over the suspension of Mrs Lee.
In his letter “What I know about Singapore’s Lee Suet Fern”, he called Mrs Lee’s suspension ”a stain on the international reputation of Singapore”.
On Nov 20, the Court of Three Judges suspended Mrs Lee from practising law for 15 months over the handling of the last will of her late father-in-law, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Sir David pointed out that the court had accepted that Mrs Lee had not acted as Lee Kuan Yew’s solicitor, that he had not communicated with her regarding his will since she was overseas at that time, that he was content with his will and that “there was no dishonesty or undue influence involved”.
Sir David also attested to Mrs Lee’s character, saying that he has known her for four decades. “She is a senior lawyer of undisputed ability, ethics, and experience, and a partner in a major US global law firm.”
In his response, published in the SCMP on Friday (Dec 11), the president of the Law Society of Singapore, Mr Gregory Vijayendran, SC, said that Mrs Lee had been “found guilty of professional misconduct beyond a reasonable doubt by the highest court overseeing disciplinary proceedings of lawyers in Singapore, presided over by the Chief Justice”.
He added that the Law Society had performed its duty as a self-regulating body “conscientiously and fairly”.
“Prosecution is not persecution,” said Mr Vijayendran.
He outlined the basis for the court’s decision: That Mrs Lee was aware that her husband, Mr Lee Hsien Yang, was “a significant beneficiary under the new will”; that she had “acquiesced” to Mr Lee Hsien Yang removing Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s lawyer from communications about the preparation of the new will; that she had “made inaccurate representations” to Mr Lee Kuan Yew concerning the draft of the final will “effectively assuring him that it reflected his testamentary wishes and could be used for execution”; and the “unseemly rush” with which the will was executed while “there was no particular urgency”.
Mr Vijayendran added: “Because Mrs Lee simply followed her husband’s wishes without considering Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s interest, he ended up signing the last will unaware that it was not the will he wished to re-execute.”
After the execution, Mrs Lee did not apprise Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s lawyer “fully and frankly of all that had transpired” and neither had she been forthcoming before the Disciplinary Tribunal, with her sworn statements rejected by the court “and contradicted by her work colleague subpoenaed by the Law Society”.
Mr Vijayendran said Sir David’s personal experiences with Mrs Lee do not eclipse a judicial verdict and added: “Regrettably, Sir David Lewis has arrogated to himself the status of a final court of appeal in the court of public opinion.”
He said the judgment of the Court of Three Judges had been done through a careful evaluation of the arguments and evidence. “But statements from a former law society leader undermining rule of law reflect poor judgment,” he added. /TISG