Lim Tean on trial for acting as lawyer without valid practising cert after missing


SINGAPORE: The trial of lawyer Lim Tean got underway on Wednesday (Dec 27) after several adjournments for reasons including switching lawyers, helping a candidate in the presidential election and gastroenteritis

Lim, 59, pleaded not guilty to three charges of acting as a lawyer between Apr 1, 2021, and Jun 9, 2021, when he was unauthorised to do so.

He is accused of appearing in court on behalf of clients on 32 occasions and preparing documents related to court proceedings on 32 occasions without a valid practising certificate.

The period of about two months was after the expiry of Lim’s previous practising certificate and before he got it renewed.

The prosecution said in its opening statement that Lim was unable to obtain his new practising certificate because he had failed to pay the fees for his professional indemnity insurance, a necessary step for the annual application for the certificate.

In his opening address, Deputy Public Prosecutor Edwin Soh said the evidence in this case was “clear and incontrovertible”.

A practice year begins on Apr 1 of a calendar year and lasts until Mar 31 of the following year, said Mr Soh.

Since Mr Lim’s practising certificate for the practice year 2021 to 2022 was issued only on Jun 10, 2021, this meant that Lim did not have any practising certificate in force between Apr 1, 2021, and Jun 9, 2021, said Mr Soh.

At the start of the hearing, Lim’s previous lawyer, Mr Foo Ho Chew discharged himself. He had in turn taken over Lim’s first lawyer, Mr Sankar Kailasa Thevar Saminathan.

Lim’s latest lawyer, Mr Patrick Fernandez, spent most of the morning cross-examinining a former assistant director at the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) on the advice she had purportedly given Lim that “emboldened” him to appear in court although he did not have his practising certificate.

Ms Rejini Raman, who has since left her role of more than five years with LawSoc, testified that she would usually help solicitors trying to obtain or renew their practising certificates around the March period.

Ms Rejini said LawSoc begins sending emails in February and March to inform lawyers what they should do to renew their certificates.

The lawyers are also reminded in weekly newsletters.

THE PROCESS OF OBTAINING A PRACTISING CERTIFICATE 

Ms Rejini explained that applications for practising certificates open on Mar 1. A lawyer would have to first get their professional indemnity insurance from a company called Lockton which handles such insurance for lawyers in Singapore.

Once this insurance has been processed, the lawyer would be able to apply for their practising certificate on eLitigation, an online platform. If a lawyer has not settled the indemnity insurance, they would not be able to access the application form on the website.

Other requirements to obtain a practising cert include the fulfilment of continuing professional development (CPD) points, which shows that an individual has maintained and improved their professional knowledge and skills.

Ms Rejini explained that there is a “soft deadline” for practitioners to file for their practising certificates by Mar 31, but there is also a “hard deadline” of Apr 30.

Lawyers who miss the first deadline can apply for their certificates within April, and if the Supreme Court issues the certificate within the month of April, it would be backdated to take effect from Apr 1.

According to the prosecution’s case, Lim obtained his certificate only on Jun 10, 2021, missing both deadlines. He had also asked Ms Rejini for “an ad hoc favour” to waive his CPD point requirement, as he had “totally overlooked it”.

THE TEXT MESSAGE

In a text message Lim sent to Ms Rejini, he said he had applied for the waiver of the CPD points, but asked: “Can I still appear in court because I have hearings”.

In response, Ms Rejini said: “Yes, you can.”

She added that Lim was to “just let the judge know you are waiting for waiver approval” before submitting his practising certificate application before the new practice year.

Lim’s latest lawyer, Mr Fernandez, spent considerable time grilling Ms Rejini about this text exchange. He put it to her that her reply had “emboldened” Lim to appear in court even though he did not have a practising certificate.

Ms Rejini, who said it was her first time appearing as a prosecution witness, said she “absolutely” disagreed.

She said she did not know at the time of Lim’s text in end-March 2021 that he had not obtained his professional indemnity insurance. 

She explained that if he had, and obtained the waiver of CPD points, the waiver would likely be granted in the next few days, which meant Lim would be able to obtain his practising certificate with a date effective from Apr 1, 2021.

It was only around May 11, 2021, that Ms Rejini realised Lim still did not have his professional indemnity insurance and practising certificate.

Ms Rejini said there are about 40 lawyers every year who fail to meet both deadlines for their practising certificates. Of these, some would have retired, be suffering from an illness, or are dealing with a bereavement or hospitalisation.

Only about three or four would seek advice on what to do, as “most people won’t come to court or ask others to come to court on their behalf”, said Ms Rejini.

Mr Fernandez repeatedly questioned Ms Rejini why she gave Lim the advice she did, “boldly” telling him he could still go to court and merely tell the judge that he was waiting for his practising certificate.

Ms Rejini said: “It seems like the responsibility of Mr Lim’s practising certificate is foisted on me.” She also said that one would expect a practitioner of 30 years’ seniority like Lim “to know”.

At one point, when the defence asked if the hearing could be stood down until after lunch, Ms Rejini told the court that she would prefer to “complete my bit in this”. 

“This is the fourth day I have taken time off from my office,” she said. “Two days in August, December 11 and now.”

The trial continues.

After Ms Rejini, the prosecution will call on its second and last witness, the investigating officer on the case. Other than the three charges Lim is contesting in this trial, he faces other charges that have been stood down for the time being.

If convicted of acting as a lawyer when he did not have a valid practising certificate under the Legal Profession Act, he could be jailed for up to six months, fined up to S$25,000, or both if it is his first offence.

If not, he faces double both penalties.



This article was originally published by a www.channelnewsasia.com . Read the Original article here. .