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Lim Tean to testify as disciplinary tribunal hears case again over $30,000 cheque

Lim Tean to testify as disciplinary tribunal hears case again over $30,000 cheque

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 02 Apr 2024
Author: Selina Lum

Politician Lim Tean said he took the advice of his counsel that he should not give evidence at the disciplinary hearing.

A disciplinary tribunal will re-hear the case against lawyer and opposition politician Lim Tean, after he told the Court of Three Judges on April 1 that he will now take the stand to testify in his defence.

In 2023, the tribunal, appointed by the Chief Justice in 2021, found Lim guilty of two charges of grossly improper conduct in relation to a $30,000 cheque that he encashed despite being notified that he had been discharged from acting for the client.

The tribunal found that the case was serious enough for it to be referred to the court – the highest disciplinary body for the legal profession – which can suspend lawyers or strike them off the rolls.

As Lim faced the court on April 1, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon noted the unusual circumstances of the case – the tribunal had decided the case based on documents, because neither Lim nor his former client gave oral evidence.

This meant there were gaps in the factual narrative, said the Chief Justice.

The counsel for the Law Society of Singapore, Mr Chenthil Kumarasingam, explained that after lodging a complaint against Lim, the client, Mr Suresh Kumar A. Jesupal, did not want further involvement in the matter.

Lim explained that a few days before the disciplinary hearing, he was charged with criminal breach of trust (CBT) in respect of the same sum of money.

He said he took the advice of his counsel that he should not give evidence at the disciplinary hearing, particularly since Mr Suresh Kumar did not turn up.

The concern was that the evidence may be used against him in the criminal case, he said.

Lim said he has now decided to give evidence before the tribunal because of the “changed circumstances”.

He noted that the CBT charge was the most serious out of the seven criminal charges he faces, but the prosecution chose instead to proceed on the less serious charges of acting as a lawyer without a valid practising certificate.

He added that he did not know what the prosecution intends to do with the CBT charge.

After hearing Lim’s explanation, the Chief Justice said it was reasonable for him to take legal advice not to take the stand, especially when the complainant was not giving evidence.

The court, which also comprised Justices Tay Yong Kwang and Andrew Phang, set aside the tribunal’s findings and sent the case back to the tribunal to hear testimony from Lim and any witnesses he wishes to call.

Lim’s testimony will cover the issues of whether he knew that his retainer had been effectively terminated and whether he had an agreement with Mr Suresh Kumar over the payment of the $30,000.

Mr Suresh Kumar had appointed Lim on Oct 23, 2018, to act for him in a traffic accident claim.

On Oct 8, 2019, Mr Suresh Kumar was awarded $50,000 in the suit.

On Nov 13 that year, he appointed law firm Joseph Chen & Co to act for him in place of Lim’s firm.

On the same day, Joseph Chen & Co sent a letter to Lim’s firm, Carson Law Chambers, to inform him that he had been discharged, and also filed a notice of change of solicitor.

The next day, Willy Tay Chambers, the law firm for the defendants in the suit, sent a cheque for $30,000 to Carson Law Chambers as interim payment of the judgment sum.

The tribunal found that Lim was guilty of grossly improper conduct for encashing the cheque when he was aware that he had been discharged, and for breaching solicitors’ accounts rules when he deposited the cheque into his firm’s office account instead of the account meant for clients’ monies.

The two-member tribunal comprised Senior Judge Andrew Ang and senior lawyer Philip Fong.

Lim had argued before the tribunal that even after the notice on the change of solicitors was filed, Mr Suresh Kumar continued to go to Carson Law Chambers’ office for meetings.

Lim also contended that there was an existing arrangement where Mr Suresh Kumar was to pay the proceeds of the judgment sum to his creditor and to Lim, before he received any money.

Source: Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

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