Court ‘made use of’: Lawyers’ intent queried

THE Court of Three Judges is deliberating over how three lawyers should be taken to task for their roles in making a court wrongly pay out $4.27million.

In hearing the matter last Thursday, Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong said it was clear the court had been ‘made use of’.

The question though, said the CJ, was the intent of the three lawyers – Ms Nor’ain Abu Bakar, Ms Ruby Tan and MrPeter Chua.

In 2005, Justice V.K. Rajah had a disciplinary committee look into their conduct. He also referred the case to the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

The lawyers’ passports were impounded by commercial crime investigators but have since been returned. No criminal charges were filed.

Still, the disciplinary committee found the case serious enough to be referred to the Court of Three Judges, which hears cases on errant lawyers and has the power to suspend or strike lawyers off the rolls.

Ms Nor’ain and Ms Tan were acting for Indonesian company JAK Alhadad & Co, in a complicated battle over properties left by an Indonesian millionaire who died in 1953.

In July 2004, $4.6 million from the sale of the properties was handed over to the courts, pending a decision on how it should be split. Two months later, the two women lawyers applied to a court for $4.27 million to be paid to JAK.

However, they made this application under a different lawsuit between JAK and MrChua’s clients, two Indonesian lawyers acting for some of the beneficiaries.

None of the three lawyers told the assistant registrar about the competing claims. The assistant registrar ordered the release of the money to JAK.

Justice Rajah has ordered JAK to return the money to the courts but that may prove to be an uphill task as it has been split among multiple parties, including lawyers and various parties in Indonesia.

After a four-hour hearing on Thursday, the Court of Three Judges reserved judgment. It will give its decision later.

Senior Counsel Andre Yeap, representing the Law Society, called it a classic case of lawyers ‘saying things they know are false, not saying things they should – all with a view to depriving other people of benefits and entitlement’.

Ms Nor’ain’s lawyer, Mr N. Sreenivasan, conceded that her non-disclosure amounted to grossly improper conduct, but said it did not constitute fraud and deceit.

Ms Tan’s lawyer, Mr Shashi Nathan, said his client, who now lives in Austria, was ‘naive’ and was acting on MsNor’ain’s instructions. MsTan, who received $64,000 in legal fees for the case, has repaid $15,000 and will pay $1,000 more each month, he said.

Mr Chua’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Deborah Barker, argued that he did not think he had any duty to feed the court ‘background’ information.

She said that even if the court found that he had a duty to inform, his failure to do so could not be seen as fraud or deceit. She also pointed out that MrChua got nothing out of the $4.27 million paid out.

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