The lawyer for the husband of surgeon Susan Lim has argued for the High Court to reverse a decision that dismissed his complaint against two lawyers who acted for the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) in disciplinary proceedings against his wife.
Mr Abraham Vergis, representing retired banker Deepak Sharma, pointed to how the $1 million bill put up by the lawyers from WongPartnership was later knocked down by the courts to $370,000.
Citing cases of lawyers who were suspended for overcharging their clients relatively smaller amounts, he said: "The margin is so stark... that it invites inquiry as to whether there was any misconduct here."
But the Law Society and Attorney-General (AG) disagreed. State Counsel Khoo Boo Jin, representing the AG, noted that the cases cited dealt with lawyers billing their clients for professional fees. The current one, on the other hand, is a "party and party" situation in which SMC, as the winning party, is seeking legal costs from Dr Lim, the losing party. Such "party and party" costs are not an award of legal fees to the winning party or legal fees charged by the lawyer but a compensatory award to defray the legal costs of the winning party, he said.
Mr Christopher Anand Daniel, representing the Law Society, said that just because a claim for costs is brought down by the court, is not enough to constitute misconduct.
In 2013, Dr Lim was ordered to pay legal costs to the SMC after she mounted an unsuccessful court battle to stop disciplinary proceedings against her over the $24 million she had billed a patient in 2007 for seven months of treatment. She was suspended for three years and fined $10,000 on 94 charges of overcharging the sister of the Queen of Brunei, who died of cancer in 2007.
WongPartnership then put up three bills detailing the fees of Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo and Ms Melanie Ho, claiming about $1 million.
The bill was brought down to $340,000 by an assistant registar, and finally adjusted to $370,000 by High Court judge Woo Bih Li.
In January last year, Mr Sharma, who funded Dr Lim's legal expenses, complained to the Law Society against Mr Yeo and Ms Ho for claiming "exorbitant" fees which amounted to "grossly improper conduct".
A two-member review committee, which acts as a sieve to decide if the matter should be referred for inquiry, dismissed his complaints, except for one against Ms Ho.
Mr Sharma then applied for judicial review, asking the High Court to quash the decision and to order a fresh review of his complaints.
The AG says he has no legal standing to complain to the society or to seek judicial review; the society says that while he has the standing, a review committee's decision is not subject to judicial review.
Yesterday, Mr Daniel also said that the society should not be named as a defendant as it did not make the decision to dismiss the complaint. The case was adjourned and will resume at a date yet to be fixed.
This article was first published on July 25, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.