Susan Lim case: Court slashes SMC's cost claims

Two years back, the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) had found surgeon Susan Lim guilty of overcharging. In an ironic twist, the High Court ruled that the legal bills sought by SMC from Dr Lim were themselves inflated, and slashed them from $1.33 million to $317,000.

The bills claimed were for work done by the council's lawyers and other costs related to two disciplinary committees brought against Dr Lim, as well as her appeal to the Court of Three Judges.

Dr Lim, 59, had been probed by the committees for overcharging a member of the Brunei royal family for medical treatment.

In 2012, she was found guilty of professional misconduct, suspended for three years, censured and fined $10,000 by the SMC. Her appeal to the Court of Three Judges was dismissed last year.

The legal bills claimed by SMC were examined and argued over two days in July before High Court Assistant Registrar Jacqueline Lee, who issued her decision grounds last month.

SMC had sought some $900,000 for work done by its lawyers at the two disciplinary committee hearings led by Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo and lawyers Melanie Ho and Lim Wei Lee respectively.

Assistant Registrar Lee was not convinced by the evidence and reduced the sum to $180,000. She also cut the $150,000 legal bill sought by SMC against Dr Lim for the appeal hearing to $70,000.

The court also disagreed with the sums sought by SMC for the legal assessors hired to advise it on points of law for the two committees. It ruled that Dr Lim should pay SMC only $22,000 of the $235,000 invoiced by the assessor for the second committee.

The legal assessor for the first committee had billed $49,200, which the court pared to $45,000.

Separately, the bills for two expert witnesses set at some $52,000 were also slashed to $14,000. Ring binders for which SMC had priced at $6 per unit for Dr Lim to pay were cut to $2.50 per unit after the court found it had used the cheaper version in past hearings.

Among other things, Dr Lim's lawyer, Mr Paul Tan, had objected to the $900,000 bill for the lawyers, pointing out there was provision to pay only one lawyer, and not two.

But lawyer Melanie Ho countered for SMC that the costs claimed was for one lawyer only at each stage of the inquiry. For instance, Senior Counsel Yeo presented the opening statement and preliminary arguments in the first hearing, while Ms Ho led evidence in the prosecution's case.

But Assistant Registrar Lee ruled "that such an interpretation of costs of one counsel/ solicitor cannot be allowed", as SMC had not been given permission by the disciplinary committee to claim fees for more than one lawyer.

She also viewed with "great circumspection" the claims by SMC's lawyers that some 1,900 hours and $1.229 million in total time cost was incurred for the disciplinary committee hearings.

SMC, which is understood to be appealing against the decision, declined comment when contacted yesterday.

This article was first published on October 1, 2014.
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