Lawyers welcome common conduct code

HAVING the same rules for all lawyers practising here is a positive move, the legal community said, as it reacted to news that a common code of conduct for foreign- and locally-qualified lawyers should go into force in the coming year.

This will create an even playing field when it comes to ethical responsibilities. “The real takeaway is that it makes clear that the ethical regime applies to all lawyers here, without differentiation of whether they are Singapore- or foreign-qualified lawyers,” said Senior Counsel Ang Cheng Hock of Allen & Gledhill, one of the biggest legal firms here. 

Lawyers believe the changes are not likely to directly affect clients, however, as the thinking behind the change is not to toughen ethical rules, but to integrate the growing number of foreign-qualified lawyers here.

About 20 per cent of the 5,260 lawyers practising here are foreign-qualified.

Lawyer Kevin Wong, a partner of London-headquartered global firm Linklaters, said: “It shows that foreign-qualified lawyers are a significant part of the legal community. Previously, we were not regulated in a uniform fashion.”

Lawyers called to the Bar in Singapore and those who got their qualifications in other countries are now regulated under different regimes. Existing professional conduct rules do not apply to foreign-qualified lawyers, who are subject instead to the rules of their home jurisdictions.

The disciplinary process is also different. Locally-qualified lawyers come under the Law Society and are supervised by the Supreme Court, while those with foreign qualifications answer to the Attorney-General.

On Monday, the Law Ministry announced plans to change this, after accepting the recommendations of a high-level committee chaired by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

These include a universal set of professional conduct rules, and placing foreign-qualified lawyers under the same disciplinary process as their local peers.

Noting that the number of foreign-qualified lawyers has doubled in the past five years, National University of Singapore law dean Simon Chesterman said the changes reflect the reality of legal practice in Singapore. “It makes sense to have similar standards and procedures to ensure that all members of that profession uphold the same values.” 

Lawyer Kabir Singh of Clifford Chance, one of the first six foreign practices to be allowed to practise certain areas of Singapore law, said foreign-qualified lawyers may be used to different professional standards in their home jurisdictions. The new regime will address potential inconsistencies, he explained. 

The Ministry of Law will set up a new Legal Services Regulatory Authority to oversee the licensing and regulation of law firms.

Law Society president and Senior Counsel Lok Vi Ming does not think this will affect the vast majority of local law firms because the requirements apply largely to approved foreign firms and local ones which collaborate with their overseas counterparts.

Mr Wong of Linklaters said the licensing regulations would not not make it any more onerous as his firm already has strict internal standards. The international firm also has to comply with the rules of various jurisdictions, such as Britain and the European Union, where its lawyers practise.


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