Disbarred lawyer who stole from HK hotel room in 2008 reinstated after 11-year hiatus

SINGAPORE - A former partner at one of Singapore's largest law firms, who was disbarred after he was convicted of stealing from a Hong Kong hotel room, was reinstated as a lawyer on Tuesday (Nov19), after a hiatus for the past 11 years.

In allowing Mr Choy Chee Yean to practise law again, the Court of Three Judges said it was satisfied that he has been fully rehabilitated and that a sufficient length of time has elapsed between his disbarment and reinstatement application.

Before he was struck off the rolls in 2010, Mr Choy voluntarily stopped practising for two years.

The court also noted that Mr Choy's act of dishonesty was an exceptional case, given that it was a one-off offence while he was suffering from major depressive disorder and under psychological stress at home and at work.

"A second chance ought to be offered to those who are genuine in their contrition," said Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang.

Mr Choy's reinstatement came with several conditions - sought by the Law Society and the Attorney-General's Chambers - to prevent any potential lapses.

He cannot take on the position of a partner, director or sole proprietor of a law firm for a year. Measures are also in place to ensure his mental and emotional stability and to safeguard clients' money.

My Choy was called to the Bar in Singapore in 1993 and in Hong Kong in 2001.

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In January 2008, when he was a partner of Rajah & Tann and in Hong Kong on a business trip, he entered the unlocked room of another guest and stole a mobile phone, a personal digital assistant and a Bluetooth earpiece.

Mr Choy pleaded guilty to a charge of burglary in Hong Kong and was given a suspended one-year jail term.

He voluntarily stopped practising in April 2008 and was disbarred from practising in Singapore in May 2010. He was also suspended from practising in Hong Kong for five years.

On Tuesday (Nov 19), his lawyer, Ms Aurill Kam, said in the past 11 years, he has taken time to "reflect, re-prioritise and reorder his life".

Ms Kam said Mr Choy has kept abreast of legal developments and taken on various law-related jobs. This included work in legal knowledge management, paralegal support, in-house legal support, training consultancy and legal publication.

She submitted letters from clients and lawyers, including two senior counsel, supporting his application.

Ms Kam added that Mr Choy has been certified mentally and psychologically fit for active legal practice. As early as March 2010, he was assessed to be in remission and not requiring further psychiatric treatment, she said.

Speaking through his lawyer, Mr Choy told The Straits Times that he was grateful for the second chance.

"This is a new chapter in my professional life and one where I am excited to be able to once again use the privileges accorded to lawyers to better contribute to society," he said.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.