High Court slashes SMC's claims, calling them exorbitant, unreasonable

High Court slashes SMC's claims, calling them exorbitant, unreasonable

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) and surgeon Susan Lim remain entangled in a dispute, almost five years after it acted against her for overcharging a patient from Brunei.

This time, the disagreement is over how much she should pay the council in costs for the long drawn-out case, which she lost.

The SMC first took action in January 2010, accusing her of overcharging by seeking $24.8 million for treating a member of the Brunei royal family over seven months in 2007. Found guilty in 2012, Dr Lim was fined $10,000, suspended from practice for three years and ordered to pay the SMC's legal costs.

Now the SMC has been told by the High Court that it asked for too much from Dr Lim in two bills totalling over $2 million. These covered costs for a first hearing, which ended with the committee disqualifying itself after 11 days; a second hearing over five days; and the three times Dr Lim took SMC to court along the way.

Dr Lim's husband, Mr Deepak Sharma, contested SMC's legal bills. After separate proceedings before a High Court assistant registrar, both bills were slashed.

Last year, the first bill was cut from $1 million to $370,000; last month, the second was reduced from $1.3 million to $317,000. Assistant Registrar Jacqueline Lee scrutinised the second bill before giving her reasons why the SMC was asking for too much.

The SMC is appealing the latest decision.

salma@sph.com.sg

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Claim #1 Legal fees: $900,000

The amount the SMC claimed as payment to law firm WongPartnership on behalf of lawyers Alvin Yeo, Melanie Ho and Lim Wei Lee

Cut to $180,000

The judgment: A doctor found guilty in an SMC disciplinary hearing can only be charged for the services of one lawyer - unless the proceedings are so complex they call for another lawyer who must be certified by SMC's disciplinary committee.

This certification was not done in this case.

Assistant Registrar Jacqueline Lee decided what was claimed for both Ms Melanie Ho and Ms Lim Wei Lee should not be allowed, and the $514,000 claimed for Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo's work was too high.

The SMC had originally presented a bill of $1,229,804 for 1,900 hours spent by its lawyers on the case, claiming "out of abundance of caution, the amount stated is a reduced figure of the time spent". The Law Society also has verified that the SMC paid a higher amount to WongPartnership than it is claiming from Dr Lim.

Ms Lee said that SMC's statement meant little since she had no information on how much time had actually been spent, and criticised the council for not detailing what the lawyers had spent their time on.

She also pointed out that "collectively, Mr Yeo, Ms Ho and Ms Lim allegedly spent 718 hours" - much less than the 1,900 hours claimed for.

Ms Lee added that if the 1,900 hours included two replacement lawyers catching up on what had happened before they joined the team, "it would be unreasonable to make the respondent (Dr Lim) bear the costs arising from any such inefficiency in the conduct of the prosecution".

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