Singapore

Tribunal can review past cases on penalty for errant lawyer

The top court for dealing with lawyer misconduct has ruled that a disciplinary tribunal can consider antecedents when deciding on the appropriate penalty for an errant lawyer.

The Court of Three Judges clarified this novel issue when it remitted the case of Ms Constance Paglar to the tribunal.

She was charged with breach of professional conduct rules.

"It would be incongruous if the Court of Three Judges but not the disciplinary tribunal is entitled to consider antecedents at the sentencing stage, when both are engaged in the same task of sentencing and might even be imposing the very same sanction," said Justice of Appeal Andrew Phang in decision grounds earlier this month.

The Court of Three Judges noted that there is no express provision in the Legal Profession Act allowing the disciplinary tribunal to take antecedents into account.

"This is unfortunate and, as this case amply illustrates, is apt to cause confusion. Legislative reform in this regard would be welcome as well," it said.

Ms Paglar, a lawyer of 22 years' standing, was charged with failing to keep a client reasonably informed of the progress of the client's matter, under r5(2)(e) of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct Rules) 2015.

She pleaded guilty before a tribunal, which deemed the case to be of sufficient gravity to be referred to and dealt with by the Court of Three Judges.

During the tribunal hearing, the Law Society submitted that the tribunal should impose a $6,000 penalty while Ms Paglar said a reprimand would suffice.

PREVIOUS BREACH

It emerged that Ms Paglar had in a previous case pleaded guilty for failing to keep her clients informed of the progress of their respective claims over an extended period. She was ordered to pay $4,000 as penalty.

At the hearing for the latest case last November before the court, her lawyer R.S. Bajwa argued that the disciplinary tribunal had erred in finding that there was cause of sufficient gravity for referring the case to the court and urged that the matter be remitted to the tribunal.

He argued that the misconduct alleged in the amended charge - namely Ms Paglar's failure to inform her client of the progress of the matter - was considerably less serious than what had been alleged in the original charges.

With regard to the amended charge, the court found there was no cause of sufficient gravity for the case to be dealt with by the court. - THE STRAITS TIMES

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COURT & CRIME