Disbarred Singapore lawyer who was convicted of theft in Hong Kong to be reinstated

Wan Ting Koh
Reporter
Yahoo file photo of Supreme Court

SINGAPORE — A former practising lawyer in Singapore successfully applied on Tuesday (19 November) to be reinstated in his profession after he was previously struck off for stealing from a hotel in Hong Kong.

Choy Chee Yean, who was disbarred in 2010 for a burglary conviction two years earlier, was deemed fit to practise subject to four conditions, a Court of Three Judges ruled. The successful application means that Choy can now apply for a practising certificate.

The conditions state that Choy should obtain a psychiatric assessment report confirming that he is mentally able and psychologically fit to continue legal practice. The report should be ready at least two weeks before the expiration of his first practising certificate following his reinstatement.

For a year after he is issued with his practising certificate, which is renewable annually, Choy must also undertake not to be a sole proprietor, a partner or a director; not to hold or receive client or trust account monies or operate any such account; and not to be a signatory to any client or trust account of any law practice.

On 21 April 2008, Choy pleaded guilty to stealing HK$9,500 (S$1,650) worth of electronic items from an unlocked hotel room, including a handphone, a personal digital assistant and a Bluetooth earpiece. He was given a suspended 12-month jail term, with the Hong Kong District Court and the Hong Kong Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal placing significant weight on Choy’s major depressive disorder in their consideration.

Choy voluntarily ceased practice in 2008 and was struck off the roll of advocates and solicitors of the Supreme Court of Singapore on 25 May 2010.

At the time of the offence, Choy was an arbitration lawyer of high standing in the legal fraternity and a partner at law firm Rajah & Tann.

Mentally and psychologically fit to practice: Choy’s lawyer

Before a panel of three judges on Tuesday, Choy’s lawyer Aurill Kam said that her client was medically certified not to be in depressive condition and fit to practise mentally and psychologically. He was assessed to be in remission and not to be in need of therapy since March 2010. 

“Even though he had failed to conduct himself in a manner befitting a member of the profession, he hopes that his efforts through the past 11 years provide assurance and confidence to this Court that he has learnt from his mistakes and has fully and completely recovered and rehabilitated,” said Kam.

In the past 11 years since he stopped practising, Choy had done some self-reflection and undertaken legal work to keep abreast of developments in the industry, she added.

He has been involved as an in-house legal counsel, paralegal support work, ad-hoc contract management and administration in building and construction law and legal publication. 

Kam also submitted testimonials by clients and senior lawyers, who spoke of Choy’s professionalism and ability to handle stress in his line of work.

Also present at the hearing were representatives of the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) and the Attorney-General’s Chambers, which did not object to the application and agreed with the conditions to be imposed.

LawSoc representative Sanjiv Rajan stated that Choy was a suitable candidate for reinstatement and that the conditions would ensure public interest was satisfied.

Satisfied that Choy fully rehabilitated: Court

Noting that the period of 11 years was a “sufficient length of time”, Justices Belinda Ang, Chao Hick Tin and Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang also took into account how Choy had written to inform LawSoc of his conviction in Hong Kong.

“We emphasise also that (Choy’s) case is an exceptional one,” said Phang, referring to how Choy’s dishonesty was a “one-off case”, which occurred when the lawyer was under psychological stress and suffering from major depressive disorder.

“Psychiatric evidence demonstrated that he was, at that time, under a tremendous amount of pressure from work, his family, and the expectations of a career,” he added.

The judges also saw no reason to disagree with Choy’s psychiatrist, who stated that Choy’s mental condition was in remission for more than two years in 2010 and that his risk of relapse was small.

Choy has also demonstrated his full rehabilitation by producing “high-quality work under stressful conditions” while he was disbarred.

Commenting on the four conditions imposed on Choy, the judges said that these send a “clear signal that the reinstatement of a disbarred advocate and solicitor is a serious matter”, and that the measures would protect the interests of potential clients.

Following the ruling by the judges, Choy said in a media statement via email, “I am very grateful to the Court, the Law Society and the Attorney-General for giving me a second chance to practise law again. 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.”

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