Committee to be set up to study issue of lawyers embezzling clients’ monies

The legal profession is forming a committee to find solutions to the problem of errant lawyers siphoning clients’ monies.

This is a further response to recent cases where lawyers were involved in shady real estate deals that have gone bad.

This was announced at the opening of the Legal Year 2008. It is an annual tradition for the Chief Justice to open a new legal year at the start of a new year.

Apart from lawyers rededicating themselves to their profession, it is also a time to reflect on the past year.

For Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, it is an opportunity to report on the administration of justice in Singapore.

Touching on the issue of professional ethics, Chief Justice Chan noted the spate of disciplinary actions against errant conveyancers where work was solicited from real estate agents and illegal moneylenders.

Last year, the Law Society tightened rules to curb lawyers from misappropriating monies from clients.

But the Chief Justice noted such measures cannot stop or prevent desperate or crooked lawyers from bending the rules.

He said the legal profession will have to face reality and come up with a solution.

Chief Justice Chan said: “The obvious solution is to bar lawyers from receiving clients’ monies. However, this will change radically a conveyancing system which has been in place for more than one hundred years. It may be a serious effect on the efficiency of the property market. We need to study the ramifications of such a change.”

The Chief Justice has appointed Judge of Appeal, Justice VK Rajah, to head a working committee to find ways to solve the problem.

The committee will also comprise stakeholders from the property market. It is expected to make its recommendations in three to five months.

Dr G Raman from GR Law Corporation said: “It’s unfortunate these errant lawyers, black sheep in the profession, give this kind of adverse publicity to the profession. The vast majority of lawyers are upright and honest practitioners.”

“In the old days, we called ourselves an honourable profession, learned friends of the Bar… is good (to set up the committee). We should be able to restore the status and prestige of the profession,” said C B Yeow from CB Yeow and Company.

Speaking at the opening of the legal year for the first time was Mr Michael Hwang, who took over as the new president of the Law Society.

He later told reporters that initial investigations into the most recent case of a lawyer embezzling a client’s money showed it was more likely an issue of personal misconduct rather than a deficiency in the system. – CNA/ir

Source : Channel NewsAsia – 5 Jan 2008

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