yap ah loy Posted: Wed Jan 27, 2010 9:46 pm
27 Jan 2010
Source: The Straits Times
A LAWYER convicted by a Hong Kong court for stealing from a hotel room will have to face a Court of Three Judges here for professional misconduct.
A two-member disciplinary tribunal presided by Senior Counsel Sarjit Singh held the matter was serious enough to go before the court – the highest body to deal with lawyer misconduct – which can either acquit, suspend or strike him off the rolls.
The lawyer pleaded guilty before the tribunal, which decided to refer the matter to the court instead of imposing its own punishments, like a fine or censure. Industry players said the case made clear that misconduct overseas would not excuse lawyers from facing disciplinary action here.
Choy Chee Yean, 43, once a high-flying partner in Rajah & Tann, had stolen items from a neighbouring hotel room while on a business trip to Hong Kong in January 2008. He was found with electronic goods, including a mobile phone, charger and an iPod worth a total HK$9,500 (S$1,650), under his bed. His actions were caught on closed-circuit TV camera and, at the police station while undergoing a body search, he also produced a mobile phone SIM card that he said was taken from the room.
Choy pleaded guilty but the Hong Kong district court sentenced him to a year’s jail, suspended for two years as he was suffering from major depression at the time of the offences.
At the tribunal hearing, Choy, defended by Senior Counsel Sundaresh Menon, explained he had pleaded guilty to the offence in Hong Kong as he did not wish to prolong his stay out of fear it would aggravate his medical condition.
But the tribunal noted that he had not produced any evidence on this from his Hong Kong psychiatrists or lawyers. Choy was “clearly aware of the repercussions of pleading guilty”.
“Given that (Choy’s) plea of guilt was unequivocal and he had expressly admitted to the elements of the offence, (his) guilty plea and conviction clearly cannot be taken lightly and disregarded.”
The tribunal, in its report published yesterday, also took issue with the way the question of Choy’s dishonesty in relation to the offence was addressed before the tribunal by his defence and the prosecuting Law Society represented by Senior Counsel Michael Khoo. Any evidence of dishonesty is expected to be key in deciding the extent of the penalties Choy stands to face if convicted.
The tribunal said that while the evidence provided by his psychiatrist – that he was not a dishonest man – was flawed and weak, the Law Society had also failed to show he was one. It “has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that (Choy) was dishonest at the time of committing the offence.”
Choy has stopped practising since April 2008 and is now a legal executive in the same law firm.