SINGAPORE: The trial of Lim Tean, a Singaporean lawyer and leader of the alternative party People’s Voice (PV), began on Wednesday, 27 December, after experiencing multiple postponements.
His trial encountered several adjournments due to various reasons, such as changing legal representation, involvement in supporting a presidential election candidate, and health issues, including gastroenteritis.
Lim entered a plea of not guilty to three charges brought against him for allegedly practising law without a valid practising certificate (PC) under the Legal Profession Act.
He is accused of representing clients in court on 32 occasions and preparing legal documents for court proceedings on 32 occasions within the period of 1 April 2021 to 9 June 2021, when he did not possess a valid PC.
This lapse of about two months occurred after the expiration of Lim’s previous PC and before its renewal.
According to the Singapore Courts website, These certificates are renewed annually for each practice year, running from 1 April to 31 March of the following year.
The prosecution highlighted in its opening statement that Lim was unable to obtain his new PC due to his failure to pay the fees for his professional indemnity insurance, an essential requirement for the certificate’s annual application.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Edwin Soh clarified that since Lim’s PC for the practice year 2021 to 2022 was issued only on June 10, 2021, this indicated that he did not possess a valid PC between April 1, 2021, and June 9, 2021.
Defence counsel grills former LawSoc assistant director over alleged advice to Lim on court appearance without PC
Lim’s latest defence counsel, Mr Patrick Fernandez, on Wednesday morning cross-examined a former assistant director at the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc), Ms Rejini Raman, regarding her alleged advice to Lim that purportedly “emboldened” him to appear in court despite lacking his practising certificate.
Ms Rejini, who had worked at LawSoc for over five years, testified about the typical assistance she provided to solicitors seeking to obtain or renew their PCs, particularly around the March period.
She elucidated that LawSoc initiates the process by sending emails in February and March to notify lawyers about the renewal procedures. Lawyers are regularly reminded through weekly newsletters as well.
Applications for PCs open on 1 March.
Lawyers must first secure their professional indemnity insurance from a company called Lockton, the entity handling such insurance for lawyers in Singapore. Access to the online application form for the PC (available on eLitigation) is contingent upon settling the indemnity insurance.
Other requisites for obtaining a PC include fulfilling continuing professional development (CPD) points, and demonstrating the maintenance and enhancement of professional knowledge and skills.
Ms Rejini highlighted a “soft deadline” by 31 March and a subsequent “hard deadline” by April 30 for practitioners to file their PCs.
Those missing the initial deadline may apply in April, and if granted by the Supreme Court within that month, the certificate would retroactively take effect from 1 April.
According to the prosecution’s case, Lim acquired his certificate on 10 June 2021, missing both deadlines stipulated for the renewal process.
He requested “an ad hoc favour” from Ms Regini to waive his CPD point requirement, as he had “totally overlooked it”.
In a text message Lim sent to Ms Rejini, he mentioned applying for the CPD points waiver, and asked: “Can I still appear in court because I have hearings”.
In response, Ms Rejini said: “Yes, you can,” and advised Lim to inform the judge about awaiting waiver approval before applying for his PC for the new practice year.
Mr Fernandez extensively questioned Ms Rejini about this exchange.
He suggested that her response had empowered Lim to attend court despite lacking a PC, and questioned why she didn’t advise Lim against court appearances.
Ms Rejini, appearing as a prosecution witness for the first time, vehemently disagreed, asserting her lack of knowledge regarding Lim’s absence of professional indemnity insurance at the time of his text in late March 2021.
She clarified that if Lim had obtained the insurance and secured the CPD points waiver, it likely would have been approved shortly after, enabling him to acquire his PC effective from 1 April 2021.
It wasn’t until around May 11, 2021, that Ms Rejini discovered Lim still hadn’t obtained his professional indemnity insurance and PC.
40 lawyers every year who fail to meet both deadlines for their PC
Ms Rejini acknowledged that approximately 40 lawyers annually fail to meet both deadlines for their PCs.
Among these individuals, some may have retired, faced health issues, or encountered personal crises like bereavement or hospitalization.
She highlighted that out of this group, only around three or four seek guidance on the course of action to take.
Most individuals, according to Ms Rejini, refrain from attending court or arranging representation due to the situation.
Mr Fernandez persistently questioned Ms Rejini about her advice to Lim, suggesting that she “boldly” advised him to attend court and inform the judge about awaiting his PC.
Ms Rejini said: “It seems like the responsibility of Lim’s practising certificate is foisted on me.”
She also emphasized that someone with 30 years of professional experience, like Lim, should have been aware of such obligations.
Lim’s defence counsel stressed that Lim had indeed taken steps to renew his PC based on guidance from the Assistant Director, Compliance, of the Law Society.
It is said that whenever Lim appeared in court, he purportedly informed the judge about the pending status of his PC application, the lawyer told the court.
Lim, commenting on his trial on Wednesday via Facebook, said that in his 32 years as a lawyer, he had never encountered a situation where an accused does not know the identity of the informant who filed the complaint against him.
“But I had that situation today. I, therefore, look forward to what tomorrow brings,” wrote Lim.
The trial is scheduled to continue tomorrow at 9:30 am in the State Court.
Slapped with a total of seven charges
Lim was called as a Barrister-at-Law to the Bar of England and Wales in 1989 and to the Singapore Bar in 1991 as an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court.
He faced legal charges on 12 May last year, including criminal breach of trust, stalking a former employee, and practising law without a valid certificate.
He was accused of purportedly misappropriating S$30,000 entrusted to him between 14 November 2019 and 4 December 2019.
This sum was reportedly part of a settlement awarded to Lim’s former client in a civil suit involving motor injury.
During 2020, investigations were conducted regarding the aforementioned accusations of misconduct and illegal stalking.
In October 2020, Lim was arrested as he allegedly failed to comply with a police notice requesting his attendance for a compulsory interview related to the ongoing investigations into his purported offences, as stated by the SPF.
Attempting to halt the police probe, Lim took his case to the High Court. However, his application was dismissed, and he was directed to cover legal costs.
The stalking accusation arose from allegations of harassing a former employee at Lim’s law firm in 2020.
Law enforcement authorities mentioned that the employee provided them with text messages exchanged between herself and Lim.
During the period between April and May 2020, Lim is accused of having sent numerous flirtatious text messages to the employee repeatedly, which reportedly caused distress to her, as outlined in the charge sheets.
Additionally, Lim also faces three charges of being an unauthorised person who acted as an advocate or solicitor.
He is suspected of engaging in the commencement, continuation, or defence of court proceedings for clients on 32 occasions spanning from April 1, 2021, to June 4, 2021.
In September 2022, Lim was handed another two new criminal charges. He was accused of misappropriating S$5,500 paid by AXA Insurance as settlement monies to a person named Christianne Rameshwaran.
He was also charged with refusing to answer questions posed to him by an officer from the police’s Commercial Affairs Department on 10 June 2022.
On 22 Aug, the court found Lim guilty of grossly improper conduct concerning the mishandling of the S$30,000 belonging to his former client.
If convicted of unlawful stalking, Lim could face imprisonment for up to 12 months, a fine of up to S$5,000, or both.
Those found guilty of criminal breach of trust as an attorney may face life imprisonment, a maximum of 20 years, or a fine.
Moreover, practising law without a valid certificate could result in a prison term of up to six months, a fine of up to S$25,000, or both.
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