*Clarification, 7/24/14: An update has been made in the fifth paragraph to clarify the fact the WongPartnership submitted the bill to Dr. Lim on behalf of the SMC and also represented the SMC on the appeals related to the bill that followed. A clarification has also been made in the fourth paragraph to the effect that the bill was incurred during Lim’s appeal against the SMC’s decision to appoint a second disciplinary committee instead of her appeal against the professional misconduct conviction.
A London-based Queen’s Counsel is applying for admission to the High Court of Singapore in order to review a case that called into question the professional conduct of two WongPartnership lawyers in their alleged charging of exorbitant legal fees.
Michael Fordham QC of Blackstone Chambers, has been hired by former Citigroup Inc. executive Deepak Sharma to initiate a judicial review of an April decision by the Law Society of Singapore that dismissed Sharma’s accusations of misconduct against partners Alvin Yeo and Melanie Ho.
The dispute is the continuation of a 2008 case against Sharma’s wife, Singaporean doctor Susan Lim, who was accused by the Singapore Medical Council of overcharging the sister of the queen of Brunei for cancer treatment the previous year. Lim was eventually found guilty in 2012 and was suspended from practice for three years and forced to pay an $8,000 fine.
In 2010, the SMC, which retained Yeo and Ho as counsel, formed a disciplinary commitee to probe into the matter but the committee was discharged on the ground of prejudging the matter. A second disciplinary commitee was soon appointed. Lim applied for judicial review against the SMC’s appoitment of the second comittee after the first one was discharged. In May 2011, Lim’s application was dismissed. She appealed to the Court of Appeal and lost again.*
As a result of losing that appeal, Lim, according to Singapore law, was required to pay the SMC’s legal fees. WongPartnership submitted a bill of $806,000 on behalf of the SMC, but an appeal against the amount by Lim and later a counter-appeal by the SMC whittled the amount down to $298,200.* The difference of a half a million dollars prompted Sharma to file a complaint against Yeo and Ho with the Law Society, calling the two “dishonorable” and saying their actions “constitute[d] grossly improper conduct.” But the Law Society dismissed Sharma’s petition on the grounds that Yeo was not personally involved in the billing and Ho’s fees were in fact not exorbitant.
Now Sharma, who was formerly chairman of Citi Private Bank, is seeking a review of that decision. In an affidavit, he said that he turned to Fordham, a well-known expert in judicial review, after two dozen Singapore-based Senior Counsel had refused to represent him because of personal or business relationship with WongPartnership. “I would add that none of the law firms or Senior Counsel contacted declined on the basis that my case was unmerited,” Sharma said in the filing. No date has been given for when the High Court will issue a decision on Fordham’s application.
Singapore courts allow foreign counsel, including QCs, to be admitted on an ad hoc basis only if special qualifications or the experience of foreign counsel is necessary and similarly qualified Singaporean lawyers are unavailable. Not all applications are granted, however. In May, The Asian Lawyer reported that the Court of Appeal overturned a lower court’s decision and denied prominent barrister Michael Beloff QC temporary admission in order to represent nTan Corporate Advisory Pte Ltd. in a $25 million professional fee dispute.
Providence Law Asia managing director Abraham Vergis is serving as solicitor to Sharma. Advocatus Law partner Christopher Anand Daniel is acting for the Law Society of Singapore.
WongPartnership declined to comment. Fordham could not be reached for comment.