SINGAPORE: Opposition lawyer Lim Tean finally had his first day in court on Wednesday (Dec 27) after several delays. Mr Lim has pleaded not guilty to three charges of acting as a lawyer without a valid practising certificate.
The trial had initially been scheduled for Aug 29, but on that day, the opposition politician asked for an adjournment to find a new lawyer and study the evidence from the prosecution. He said he’d been unable to do so as he had been busy with Mr Tan Kin Lian’s presidential campaign.
The next date for the trial was supposed to have been Dec 11, but the leader of People’s Voice party had come down with gastroenteritis. However, the proceedings are now underway, and Mr Lim, 59, said he has an “excellent defence team in Patrick Fernandez and Foo Ho Chew. I know they will defend me well.”
Interestingly, before the trial began, Mr Foo asked the judge to discharge him as Lim’s legal representative, which Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun agreed to. Meanwhile, Mr Fernandez said that although he had come in late on Dec 26 (Tuesday), he could not seek an adjournment to the trial.
The trial involves three charges against Mr Lim of acting as a lawyer without a valid practising certificate under the Legal Profession Act, which he is contesting. Four other charges have been filed against him, including unlawfully stalking an ex-employee and criminal breach of trust for misappropriating his client’s money.
The case was described by Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Edwin Soh as a straightforward one based on Mr Lim acting as an advocate and solicitor when he had no valid practising certificate, and added that the evidence was “clear and incontrovertible”.
“Between April 1 and June 9, 2021, the accused sued out of a writ on behalf of a client, attended court hearings and prepared court documents on 32 occasions while as an unauthorised person, defined by the LPA, who did not have a valid practising certificate,” said the DPP.
Lim had been issued a certificate on June 10, 2021.
A Ms Rejini Raman took the stand on the first day of the trial. Ms Rejini is a former assistant director at the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) and is purported to have given the People’s Voice leader advice that “emboldened” him to appear in court even without a practising certificate.
Ms Rejini said that by February or March each year, lawyers receive emails from LawSoc telling them what they need to do to renew their certificates. One such requirement is for lawyers to get their professional indemnity insurance from a company, Lockton, that handles this type of insurance for the country’s lawyers.
Obtaining this insurance allows a lawyer to apply for their practising certificate online; otherwise, they cannot do so. Lawyers also need to fulfil continuing professional development (CPD) points.
Ms Rejini said that she learned Mr Lim did not have a valid practising certificate “on or around May 11, 2021,” when she saw emails between the lawyer and an accounts executive from Lockton.
“At no point was I authorising (Mr Lim) to practice without a practising licence,” Ms Rejini said in response to questions from DPP Soh.
Mr Lim’s lawyer also asked her, Mr Fernandez if she agreed that it was “very odd” for her to advise lawyers to attend court without a practising certificate.
Ms Rejini answered that she had told him to fully disclose to the court, who could decide what to do.
“I was not deciding what to do. The Law Society does not have the authority, and if you read the WhatsApp message in its entirety, one would expect a lawyer of 30 years seniority to know this — it is the legal practitioner’s responsibility to do so.”
Mr Lim’s trial continues on Dec 28. /TISG