Case Summaries

Law Society of Singapore v Kangatharan s/o Ramoo Kandavellu [2018] SGHC 265

SUPREME COURT OF SINGAPORE

28 November 2018

Case summary

Law Society of Singapore v Kangatharan s/o Ramoo Kandavellu [2018] SGHC 265 

Court of Three Judges, Originating Summons No 5 of 2018
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Decision of the Court of Three Judges (delivered by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon):

Outcome: Lawyer struck off the roll by the Court of Three Judges on the basis of his conviction for providing false information to IRAS. 

Pertinent and significant points of the judgment

Expedited disciplinary procedure under s 94A(1) of the LPA engaged if an advocate and solicitor is convicted of an offence, if the facts surrounding or underlying the commission of the offence disclose fraud or dishonesty, so long as the facts in question are finally proved and admitted, and these facts are closely connected to the charge and the conviction. 

 

Background 

1 This was an application by the Law Society of Singapore (“the Law Society”) under s 98(1)(a) read with s 94A(1) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2009 Rev Ed) (“LPA”) that the respondent, an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court, suffer such punishment as is provided under s 83(1) of the LPA.  

2 On 4 August 2017, the respondent pleaded guilty to a charge under s 37J(2) of the Income Tax Act (Cap 68, 2012 Rev Ed) for providing false information to the Comptroller of Income Tax  without reasonable excuse. He was convicted and sentenced to a fine of $4,500 and a penalty of $49,212. In the Statement of Facts (“SOF”), the respondent admitted, without qualification, to various acts that evidenced dishonesty on his part, which included (at [4]): 

a. Conniving with other individuals to defraud the Government through an abuse of the Productivity and Innovation Credit (“PIC”) scheme and agreeing to split the gains from the abuse with a co-conspirator. 

b. Making various false declarations even though he was aware that he was not eligible for the PIC scheme, and signing and submitting a false invoice which he knew to be false together with the PIC application.  

c. Making Central Provident Fund (“CPF”) contributions to non-employees solely to fulfil the conditions for the PIC claim, and telling his sister to lie to the authorities if she was queried by them. 

 3 In typical disciplinary matters, the Court is the final step in the process through which the alleged misconduct of an advocate and solicitor is dealt with. However, under s 94A(1) of the LPA, the Law Society is required to bring a disciplinary matter directly before the Court if an advocate and solicitor “has been convicted of an offence involving fraud or dishonesty”. 

4 In this case, the Court observed that fraud or dishonesty was not a constituent element of the offence, as the respondent was convicted of giving a false statement “without reasonable excuse”. This did not necessarily imply fraud or dishonesty (at [6]–[9]). Thus, the issue was whether the procedure under s 94A(1) of the LPA was applicable in this case against the respondent, even though fraud or dishonesty was not a constituent element of the respondent’s offence (at [1]). 

The Court’s decision

5 The Court held that even if fraud or dishonesty were not a constituent element of the offence of which an advocate and solicitor was convicted, the procedure under s 94A(1) of the LPA would still be applicable if the facts surrounding or underlying the commission of the offence disclose fraud or dishonesty, so long as (at [23]):

a. the facts in question have been finally proved or admitted at the time of the conviction, so that the Court will not have to undertake a separate factual inquiry; and

b. those facts are closely connected to the charge and the conviction, and are not wholly extraneous to it. 

6 The Court took this view for the following reasons: 

a. First, it noted that s 94A(1) of the LPA merely provides an expedited procedure for an advocate and solicitor’s case to be heard by the Court and does not determine the advocate and solicitor’s punishment. Further, the purpose underlying this abbreviated procedure is the public interest in ensuring that an advocate and solicitor who has been convicted of an offence involving fraud or dishonesty, is expeditiously dealt with by the Court (at [17]–[18]). 

b. Second, the statutory language of s 94A(1) of the LPA does not limit the search for fraud or dishonesty to the elements of the offence, but is phrased in a manner wide enough to include the facts and circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence (at [19]).

c. Third, restricting the use of s 94A(1) of the LPA to situations where an advocate and solicitor is convicted of an offence which features fraud or dishonesty as a constituent element would cause its applicability to turn on the Public Prosecutor’s (“PP”) exercise of prosecutorial discretion. This is unsatisfactory because there is a difference in the focus of the PP’s exercise of prosecutorial discretion and that of disciplinary proceedings under the LPA (at [20]).

d. Finally, the overarching objectives of protecting the public and upholding confidence in the legal profession’s integrity requires the focus of the analysis to be on the substance of the wrongdoing. Where fraud or dishonesty is established, these objectives are furthered by expediting the disciplinary process (at [21]). 

 

7 The Court observed that the respondent had admitted to the relevant dishonest conduct without qualification in the SOF. Further, these facts were closely connected with the offence for which he was charged. Thus, s 94A(1) of the LPA was properly engaged and the Court had jurisdiction to hear and decide the application (at [24]). 

8 On the basis of the respondent’s conviction for an offence involving the dishonesty highlighted above, the Court held that due cause against the respondent under s 83(2)(a) of the LPA had been shown (at [25]). 

9 The Court further held that striking off the respondent under s 83(1)(a) of the LPA was the appropriate sanction as the case fell within one of the “typical” situations involving dishonesty where a striking off order would be warranted: the dishonesty is integral to the commission of the criminal offence of which the advocate and solicitor has been convicted. Additionally, the Court observed that the respondent’s dishonest misconduct was egregious and evinced a deliberate and elaborate scheme to defraud the Government. This demonstrated a fundamental disregard for the law and a lack of integrity. The Court also noted that there were no exceptional circumstances to show that a striking off would be disproportionate (at [26]).

10 Thus, the Court ordered that the respondent be struck off the roll of advocates and solicitors (at [27]).  

This summary is provided to assist in the understanding of the Court’s grounds of decision. It is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the Court. All numbers in bold font and square brackets refer to the corresponding paragraph numbers in the Court’s grounds of decision.

 

 

 

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