Susan Lim case: Impact of ruling may be extensive

Susan Lim case: Impact of ruling may be extensive
Deepak Sharma.

A Pending legal ruling sparked by the husband of prominent surgeon Susan Lim seems simple enough, but it could have far-reaching consequences for the legal profession. The issue centres on whether a person who is not a party in a dispute has the standing to get involved.

Mr Deepak Sharma was not a party in the disciplinary and court proceedings involving Dr Lim and the Singapore Medical Council, but he lodged a complaint over the costs charged by the council for two lawyers who acted against his wife.

Earlier this year, a review committee dismissed his complaint against Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo and partially dismissed it against lawyer Melanie Ho. It found that the bill of costs was not exorbitant and there was no professional misconduct.

Mr Sharma then applied for a judicial review of that decision and sought a Queen's Counsel to represent him in the proceedings.

Justice Steven Chong rejected the application for a Queen's Counsel in judgment grounds delivered last week. But his decision also raised the issue of whether Mr Sharma had the right to even apply for a judicial review or lodge a complaint given he was not a party in the case nor liable for the costs.

"It is neither plain nor obvious at this stage whether Mr Sharma is required to demonstrate his standing, and if so, whether he has the standing to lodge the complaint or to file a leave application," wrote Justice Chong in the judgment grounds.

The judge declined to rule on the matter last week, noting that it was a novel issue that could be settled later.

It is understood that the outcome of Mr Sharma's case could have far-reaching effects as it may open the floodgates for any person to complain even though he does not have a direct interest in a particular case.

Mr Sharma's lawyer Abraham Vergishad argued that there are sufficient checks and balances in the Legal Profession Act to guard against such a result.

Justice Chong also expressed doubts on whether the relevant provisions in the Act conferred "carte blanche" on any person to make a complaint even though he may have no direct interest in doing so.

But he made it clear that he did not have to rule on the issue at this stage, "however interesting and challenging it may be".

A ruling is expected when the application for the judicial review is heard in the High Court in due course.

Justice Chong noted that Mr Sharma's "purported standing" was that he was "the 'co-funder' of his wife's legal fees in her applications and appeals against the procedural decisions of the Singapore Medical Council". But there was no explanation as to why Dr Lim needed co-funding, given that she is a "person of very substantial means".

The Attorney-General's Chambers represented by Senior Counsel Jeffrey Chan maintained that Mr Sharma did not have the requisite standing.

A High Court pre-trial conference is due today.

vijayan@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 12, 2014.
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