Court of 3 judges to decide if Lee Suet Fern should be disbarred

Lee Suet Fern

This Thursday, 13 August 2020, a Court of Three Judges will be considering whether Lee Suet Fern, a practising lawyer of 37 years’ standing, should be disbarred for legal professional misconduct.

Lee Suet Fern is the wife of Lee Hsien Yang and the daughter-in-law of Lee Kuan Yew. Lee Hsien Yang is one of the three beneficiaries of Lee Kuan Yew’s estate.

The charges of misconduct were brought against Lee Suet Fern by the Law Society of Singapore (the Society) following a complaint filed by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to the Society on 4 December 2018. As the complaint came from the AGC, the Society is by law mandated to apply to the Chief Justice to appoint a Disciplinary Tribunal.

The Society’s charges against Lee Suet Fern relate to her involvement in the execution of Lee Kuan Yew’s Last Will signed on 17 December 2013.

From 20 August 2011 to 17 December 2013, Lee Kuan Yew made a total of seven Wills.

By operation of law, each new Will superceded the previous Will. Lee Kuan Yew signed the Last Will on 17 December 2013. Two lawyers came to Lee Kuan Yew’s house to witness his execution of the Last Will.

On 2 January 2014, Lee Kuan Yew on his own prepared and signed a Codicil to his Last Will. He arranged his own witnesses. A ‘codicil’ is a formally executed document made after a will that adds to, subtracts from, or changes the will. The Codicil bequeathed two carpets to Lee Hsien Yang.

Lee Kuan Yew passed away on 23 March 2015. Probate was granted on the basis of the Last Will on 6 October 2015.

On 13 February 2019, two practising lawyers, Sarjit Singh Gill and Yee Kee Shian Leon, were appointed by the Chief Justice as the Disciplinary Tribunal to hear and investigate the Society’s charges against Lee Suet Fern.

The issues at stake before the Disciplinary Tribunal were essentially:

  1. Whether Lee Suet Fern and Lee Kuan Yew stood in a solicitor-client relationship i.e. was there an Implied Retainer; and
  2. If Lee Kuan Yew was her client, did she fail her client to the extent of professional misconduct.

Lee Suet Fern pleaded not guilty to all the charges. The Disciplinary Tribunal conducted a five-day hearing from 1 to 5 July 2020. During the hearing, Lee Suet Fern and Lee Hsien Yang were cross-examined on the witness stand by the Society’s lawyers on their testimonies.

On 18 February 2020, the Disciplinary Tribunal released their decision. The Disciplinary Tribunal concluded Yes on the two questions.

The Disciplinary Tribunal agreed with the Society that Lee Suet Fern and Lee Kuan Yew stood in a solicitor-client relationship. The Disciplinary Tribunal said that Lee Suet Fern had failed to advance her client’s interest, instead she had promoted her own interest and/or the interest of her husband, Lee Hsien Yang ahead of her client’s interest. She also failed her duty to advise Lee Kuan Yew to be independently advised in respect of his intention to give a one-third share of his estate to Lee Hsien Yang.

Given the Disciplinary Tribunal’s findings against Lee Suet Fern, the Court of Three Judges will now determine if the Respondent should be disbarred.

The Society’s case against Lee Suet Fern is about a solicitor’s legal professional duties, how a solicitor should conduct himself when he deals with his client and what amounts to professional misconduct.

The Society’s case against Lee Suet Fern is not about whether Lee Kuan Yew was aware or unaware the Last Will contained the Demolition Clause. In a statement published by the AGC on 7 January 2019 to announce that the AGC had filed a complaint of professional misconduct involving Lee Suet Fern, the AGC stated that their complaint did not relate to the validity of Lee Kuan Yew’s Last Will.

Doubts as to whether Lee Kuan Yew was aware his Last Will contained the Demolition Clause was publicly raised by Lee Hsien Loong on 15 June 2017 who said a “series of events led me to be very troubled by the circumstances surrounding the Last Will.”

Notwithstanding Lee Hsien Loong had publicised his unhappiness with Lee Suet Fern’s involvement in the execution of Lee Kuan Yew’s Last Will, Lee Hsien Loong is not the Complainant nor a party to the proceedings against Lee Suet Fern.

As earlier mentioned in this article, the case against Lee Suet Fern was initiated by AGC. More accurately, it was filed by Deputy Attorney-General Lionel Yee, as Attorney-General Lucien Wong had recused himself from the case against Lee Suet Fern. Lucien Wong had been Lee Hsien Loong’s personal lawyer prior to becoming the Attorney-General.

In their 7 January 2019 statement, the AGC referenced their statutory duty to deal with misconduct by lawyers as the basis for filing their complaint against Lee Suet Fern. The AGC said that when the AGC becomes aware of possible professional misconduct, it is required to consider if the matter should be referred to the Society. In this case, AGC became aware of a possible case of professional misconduct by Lee Suet Fern. The AGC statement did not say how the AGC became or was made aware of possible professional misconduct by Lee Suet Fern in respect of the execution of Lee Kuan Yew’s Last Will.

Notwithstanding Lee Hsien Loong’s misgivings with Lee Suet Fern’s involvement in the execution of Lee Kuan Yew’s Last Will, the focus of the Disciplinary Tribunal was on what Lee Suet Fern should or should not have done, rather than on whether Lee Kuan Yew was aware or unaware of the Demolition Clause when he signed the Last Will.

The Court of Three Judges hearing the case this Thursday comprises Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon,

Justice Judith Prakash and Justice Woo Bih Li.

Although the next step following the Disciplinary Tribunal’s findings against Lee Suet Fern is for the Court of Three Judges to decide if Lee Suet Fern should be struck off the roll, the powers of the Court of Three Judges are not limited to that role.

The Court of Three Judges is not bound to accept the findings and decision of the Disciplinary Tribunal. If the Court of Three Judges does not agree with the decision of the Disciplinary Tribunal, it has the power to set aside the determination of the Disciplinary Tribunal, direct Disciplinary Tribunal to rehear and reinvestigate the complaint, or even order the appointment of another Disciplinary Tribunal to hear and investigate the complaint.

We shall see in the coming days whether the Court of Three Judges agrees with Disciplinary Tribunal’s conclusions or not; and if the Court does, then whether the Court considers it would be an appropriate sanction to strike Lee Suet Fern off the roll.

Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss is a practising lawyer of 30 years’ standing. Wills & Probate is one of her areas of specialisation.

 

 

Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss

 

 

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29 Responses to “Court of 3 judges to decide if Lee Suet Fern should be disbarred”

  • Billy ma:

    The judgement is almost already set.

    Can the judiciary be trusted as an independent institution?
    For judgement not involving PAP, justice is almost always carried.

    But for those against PAP opponents, Singaporeans can look at all the cases on record to make your own judgement.

    But Singaporeans must be concerned because if it can be used against these people, the knife can fall on us as well if PAP want to.

    That’s that one vote each of us hold is so so important.

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  • Li ShengWu is not really smart:

    Li SHengWu is “book smart” but not “street smart”. He agreed to pay the fine too soon. He should have told the AGC he will wait until the case of his mother is decided before deciding whether or not to pay the fine.

    He is already committed to paying the fine so the Government has a “free hand” to disbar his mother. He should have played a”quid pro quo game” with the government.

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  • xoxo:

    All own people,mah.
    Only a few million leh.
    What about $100 Billion?
    Other tens of Billions?
    No checks,no questions?
    EP simply ok,ok,ok.
    Anything also can.
    No AG,DY AG,LAW SOC DIAM DIAM when citizens got *cheated*?
    Law Soc diam diam when sgs got bashed?
    Law Soc here is LAW SUCKS?

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  • RDB:

    Am no legal profession nor know enough to comment. But something me and my friends who know something. are all wondering if LHY & wife being not in LHL’s camp has anything to do with it or not.

    Any legal minds here care to share their views?

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  • najib and wife:

    instead of speculating, and perhaps getting POFMA’ed, it is far better for 39% to talk about truth.

    truth about najib and wife is this. najib and wife had spf cpib agc bank negara reporting to them so that churi can be easy.

    the indictment against najib and wife for churi was 2 feet high.

    how do we know? Dr Mahatir said so.

    Dr Mahatir said it took him 2 hours to read 2 pages of the indictment and he was amazed at then najib and wife agc for saying he had read all the 2 feet high indictment over the weekend and had pronounced najib and wife not guilty.

    remember. as soon as najib and wife umno crashed during GE14, and najib and wife lost their crowns, the New agc under Dr Mahatir reading the same indictment against najib and wife pronounced them to be guilty as charged.

    same set of documents. 2 different agc. one reading, not guilty. the other reading, guilty.

    law is like that?

    No, law is not like that. it is the people reading the law. and ultimately it depends on who appointed them.

    law is not physics. neither is law medicine. law is a social invention, to prod disobeying sheep from waking up aka to ensure sheep remains sheep producing cotton.

    same indictment, 2 feet high. 1 agc reading, not guilty. another agc reading, guilty.

    same document. same 2 feet high. 2 different conclusions.

    law, is not science. it cannot cure stupidity, especially the cotton producing kind of xia suay stupidity.

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  • xoxo:

    When WILL DRAFTED?
    LKY WAS OF LUCID MIND still?
    LKY IS A LAWYER HIMSELF N OF ALERT N SOUND MIND.
    WHY NEED TO BE SO EXTREME?
    LKY WAS NOT LIKE A CARDBOARD COLLECTOR OR TOULET CLEANER WITH LOW OR ZERO EDUCATION?

    THIS IS VENGEFULNESS.
    PERIOD.

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  • Foreigners help SG punch above:

    I said disbarred her …

    She should remember her place in society before taking on my great leader PM Lee.

    GE2024.PAP.Guarantee.Win.Again
    Majullah $PAP$ $PAP$ Huat$ Huat$ Huat$
    Lazy Singaporeans must be Cheaper, Better, Faster

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  • Soccerbetting2:

    Stated above :Quote – “Court of 3 judges to decide if Lee Suet Fern should be disbarred…” Unquote.

    Response :It will only be a surprise if the court continue to barred her.

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  • Esteemed Mr JB Jeyaretnam:

    will the pig bite the hand that feeds it?

    probably will, if the pig and the hand are in the USA.

    anywhere else, very unlikely, especially in an Asian context.

    what is the point?

    when then esteemed Mr JB Jeyaretnam told everyone that the then cj was beholden to the accused lee kuan yew, everyone inside 39% knew he was right.

    alas.

    in an Asian context, such beholdenness is very hard to prove. especially when the beholding and the beholden choose not to reveal the beholdenness.

    at that time, the cj could not be approved in role without the nodding of the then leader of government.

    so for anyone to say the appointed cj and the appointing hand to be clean may be true in all aspects but hard to prove in open court.

    that is why in the history of mankind, there was only ONE human bao ching tian. only one, out of 7 billions, alive or dead.

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  • Great Asia:

    The Great Asia has been here to make comments about this Lee 呆/idiot for more than a decade. If you still can’t understand what kind of monkey this Lee monkey is, then I have nothing more to say.

    Ha ha ha!

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  • Realistically:

    @ Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss

    >>This Thursday, 13 August 2020, a Court of Three Judges will be considering whether Lee Suet Fern, a practising lawyer of 37 years’ standing, should be disbarred for legal professional misconduct.<<

    Pity that u did not comment earlier so that people can attend if they wished.

    Also, what is the case nu?

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  • Realistically:

    @ Li ShengWu is not really smart:
    August 13, 2020 at 12:39 pm (Quote)

    >>Li SHengWu is “book smart” but not “street smart”. He agreed to pay the fine too soon. He should have told the AGC he will wait until the case of his mother is decided before deciding whether or not to pay the fine.<<

    Would u like to tell us if you are a lawyer?

    On what basis is Assistant Professor Li Shengwu not "street smart". How does his paying of the $15k fine prejudiced or otherwise affect the CA hearing pertaining to his mother's case?

    If you are a lawyer, which I very much doubt, you could have suggested that Dr Li file an appeal against the High Court judgment. If Dr Li later wants to discontinue with the appeal, he would forfeit the filing fees.

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  • opposition dude:

    All this does is to make that Will that Suet Fern was involved in null and void. A circus if you will. So with this done goondu Loong can now go ahead and make sure his old house isn’t demolished for as long as he can.

    But make no mistake about this, one day he will also pass on. And after he is gone who is to say changes won’t be made?

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  • An insult to LKY:

    Disbarring Lee Suet Fern would be an insult to LKY. He is a lawyer and knows all about conflict of interest. If the latter is a concern to him he would not have involved her in the drafting of his will.

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  • SiaoLiaoNation:

    The govt LKY founded is saying LKY is a dotard or senile, without proof, according to the defense lawyer ah woon. Who believe LKY siao liao at 90? Even the old man up north still kuat and perform PM role pass 90. There was no proof LKY was siao liao at the time he read and signed on the will(too simple and straightforward for a very competent lawyer himself).
    Obviously the legal system with its “scribes” is the issue here especially you don’t need ridiculously overpaid lawyer to tell you the entire case handled by the institution had showed that the legal system is ….korrot!

    The irony is that the legal institution which is part of the govt was set up by LKY(or he changed it to suit his politics).

    The way i see it, he reaped or the nation reaped from his sow.

    A siao/korrot nation by the father of sin.

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  • Realistically:

    https://sg.yahoo.com/news/lee-kuan-yews-will-disciplinary-tribunal-cherrypicked-evidence-in-censuring-lee-suet-fern-say-lawyers-083808127.html

    Lee Kuan Yew’s will: Disciplinary Tribunal ‘cherry-picked’ evidence in censuring Suet Fern, say lawyers

    Nicholas Yong
    Assistant News Editor
    Yahoo News Singapore13 August 2020

    SINGAPORE — A Disciplinary Tribunal that censured Lee Suet Fern for grossly improper professional conduct in her handling of the late Lee Kuan Yew’s final will has “cherry-picked” evidence in arriving at its conclusions, said her lawyers at an appeal hearing on Thursday(13 August).

    They added that Suet Fern, who is the wife of Lee Hsien Yang, merely played an “administrative role” in facilitating her father-in-law’s wishes. The 61-year-old is also sister-in-law to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

    Her appeal against the DT’s findings was heard by the Court of Three Judges, the highest disciplinary body that deals with lawyers’ misconduct. They comprise Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash and Justice Woo Bih Li. The DT unveiled its findings in February this year.

    It is the latest twist in the long-running Lee saga, which erupted in June 2017 when Hsien Yang and his sister Wei Ling went public with their dispute over the fate of the old family home at 38 Oxley Road, accusing their older brother PM Lee of abusing the organs of state for his own benefit.

    Background to the case

    Last January, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) referred Suet Fern to the Law Society for her alleged role in preparing the will of Singapore’s first PM. The AGC said that this had placed her in a position of conflict and was a breach of the rules governing the conduct of lawyers because her husband was a beneficiary of the will, which was signed by the late Lee on 17 December 2013.

    Two charges were laid against her by the tribunal. First, as her father-in-law’s retainer, she had failed to advance his interest, unaffected by her own interest and/or that of her husband. This was because she prepared and arranged for the execution of the will, which gave Hsien Yang a third of the estate.

    Secondly, as the retainer, Suet Fern breached rules by acting on the one-third share and failing to counsel the senior Lee to be independently advised on the “significant gift”.

    The couple have consistently denied that Suet Fern acted as the late Lee’s lawyer, but was merely helping as a family member and daughter-in-law.

    But the two-man tribunal appointed by CJ Menon, comprising Senior Counsel Sarjit Singh Gill and lawyer Leon Yee Kee Shian, found all charges against Suet Fern “proven beyond reasonable doubt” in its 206-page report.

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  • The career of Darth Vader:

    It’s turned out such a sham the house where the first men gathered to contemplate a republican dream….whose intended demolition signifies our degeneration into the crony-capitalist corporation this country is.

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  • Realistically:

    It called Suet Fern a “deceitful witness who tailored her evidence to portray herself as an innocent victim who had been maligned”. The tribunal added that the conduct of Hsien Yang, who testified as a witness, was “equally deceitful”.

    “Mr Lee (Kuan Yew), who was very frail and in poor health, was misled by the very people whom he trusted: his son Lee Hsien Yang and daughter-in-law,” said the tribunal’s report on the case.

    Final will executed with ‘extreme haste’

    The Law Society was represented by senior counsel Tan Chee Meng, as well as Koh Swee Yen and Queenie Lim.

    On Thursday, Koh argued that as the late Lee had always had a lawyer for his six wills – his niece Kwa Kim Li – it was a “reasonable inference” that he would have wanted a lawyer for his final will. And in a 4 June 2015 email to the three Lee siblings, Kwa explained why their father had done six wills over 15 months.

    “I prepared at least 15 drafts for his review over that period, to take into account the many changes,” said Kwa, noting that the discussions revolved around where Wei Ling would stay, the division of the estate, and “how to give the children least headaches (over Oxley) when he is gone”.

    Ultimately, Kwa was excluded by Suet Fern and Hsien Yang for the final will, which was executed with “extreme haste”, charged Koh.

    When Judge Prakash asked if Suet Fern had “forced herself” into the position of being the lawyer, Koh concurred. But the Judge expressed scepticism on this point, while CJ Menon also noted that the legitimacy of the will was not in dispute.

    Judge Prakash said, “Here is a person who is still in command of his faculties and has been in correspondence with his lawyer, now he is presented with this will. Am I supposed to believe that he has forgotten about this correspondence?”

    Nevertheless, Koh maintained that Suet Fern deserved “severe sanctions” because of the various circumstances in which events took place.
    Tribunal ‘cherry-picked’ evidence
    Suet Fern was represented by senior counsels Kenneth Tan and Walter Woon, as well as Soh Wei Chi.

    In their submissions to the court, the lawyers argued that the DT’s verdict was “patently unsafe and wrong”. It maintained that the Law Society failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, or that she deserved sanction for any misconduct.

    Firstly, they claimed that the DT “cherry-picked” the evidence. For example, it described the late Lee as a 90-year-old man in poor health in its “slanted” characterisation of the context in which the will was signed. However, the DT did not account for the fact that the late Lee was still “very lucid”, even if he was old, and remained a Member of Parliament until his passing on March 2015.

    Secondly, it “totally ignored” important evidence favourable to Suet Fern. For example, the DT did not take into account that any dealings between the late Lee and Suet Fern were as between legally trained family members – far removed from any commercial setting.

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  • Realistically:

    “Between family members, there is trust, some expectations, but before you are a lawyer, you are a family member. It cannot be that because a lawyer is also a family member, the lawyer should refrain from assisting the family member in any legal matters,” argued Tan.

    Woon claimed that it would not have been tenable for Suet Fern to advise her father-in-law, a man used to getting his way, to seek independent legal advice. “This would have implied he did not know what he wanted. He would have exploded, the sound of the explosion would have been heard all the way to the Istana.”

    Conflict of interest rule is ‘absolute’

    However, CJ Menon took issue with some of Woon’s arguments. “The controversy is your proposition that a solicitor is entitled to act in respect of the will, which confers a benefit on the solicitor’s spouse, and your argument that this does not present a conflict of interest…if the respondent is acting as the solicitor in respect of a will where her husband is one of the beneficiaries, it is a conflict.”
    In response, Woon maintained that the late Lee was “content” to accept this conflict.

    Alluding to the professional conduct rules for lawyers, which prohibits them from acting on behalf of family members when there is potential for personal profit, Justice Woo stressed, “The rule as it is cannot be waived.”

    And when asked again if Suet Fern had committed a “technical breach” of the rules, Woon would only say that he respected the judge’s position.
    Hardly a ‘doddering old dotard’

    Thirdly, the DT grounded its conclusion on a “plethora of unjustifiable inferences”, said Suet Fern’s lawyers. For example, it wrongly inferred that Suet Fern had hurried her father-in-law to sign the last will without due regard to his wishes. The lawyers noted that the former PM was a “dominating character of sharp intellect who knew exactly what he wanted and was accustomed to having his instructions carried out without delay”.

    They added, “The DT sought to convey the impression that Mr Lee Kuan Yew was a doddering old dotard being taken advantage of by his son and daughter-in-law, ignoring evidence of Bernard Lui and Elizabeth Kong that he was lucid and read the last will before initialling on every page.”

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  • Realistically:

    This was a “complete perversion” of the facts, claimed Woon, noting that the late Lee was still “very lucid”. He added, “This dishonours the memory of Lee Kuan Yew.”
    Fourthly, in reaching its conclusions, the DT failed to call critical witnesses such as the late Lee’s niece Kwa Kim Li, who had acted as his lawyer.
    The lawyers also noted that the DT made “very serious allegations” against Suet Fern and her husband, accusing them of “lying, suppressing evidence and deceit”. They asked the Court of Appeal to state that it is “unacceptable” for the DT to cast serious aspersions on the conduct of parties and witnesses without very clear evidence.
    Judgement has been reserved in the case. If Suet Fern were to lose the appeal, she may face a fine, suspension or even be disbarred.

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  • Sinkies very smart:

    Surely, most Sinkies can reach the same conclusion as judges.

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  • TUMASIK Patriot:

    The one who wear Pants and the One who wear Pink Panties is turning Singapore Judiciary into a Mockery and a JOKE!!!…

    AG…personal lawyer…Law Society…a gathering of Sparrows

    Put together AND a 3 Judge Court will decide

    Verdict: Guilty and the Pliant Judicial system is Clear as Daylight

    If NOT there is still a little HOPE on the bench but not the other TWO to Tango with the Pants & Panties on Violin

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  • xoxo:

    Law Society?
    More like *LOW* $ociety?
    Lowdown attack on Suet Fern.
    Tan Chee Meng shud be downgraded to JUNIOR COUNSEL?

    HAS LAW SOC PROTECTED defenceless sgs by speaking out against unfair law-making?

    Look at truly first world LAW SOCIETIES ELSEWHERE.
    OURS IS DISGRACEFUL!

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  • Michael:

    “Mr Lee (Kuan Yew), who was very frail and in poor health, was misled by the very people whom he trusted: his son Lee Hsien Yang and daughter-in-law,”

    So the court is admitting that residents and SG citizens were short changed? He was MP and MM and was easily misled. So maybe all the things he said or did were not right as MP and MM as he was misled by other people!

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  • NotMyProblem:

    Michael:

    …..

    So the court is admitting that residents and SG citizens were short changed? He was MP and MM and was easily misled. So maybe all the things he said or did were not right as MP and MM as he was misled by other people!

    ….

    He was misled by the voters of Tanjong Pagar. LKY was frail and in poor health, but the voters of Tanjong Pagar voted for him making him thinking he was well and healthy.

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  • Realistically:

    The court proceeding which I had posted was from Yahoo News, which was much lengthy than those in the 158th ranked media.

    According to the TODAY’s report, Woo Hin Li J had mentioned that Rule 46 of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules. Upon checking, Rule 46 has the heading: ‘Third Party publicity’……..I wonder what that has got to do with the legal proceedings against Mrs Lee Suet Fern?

    The whole case, to me, is just a sham, unless there is clarification of the law, facts and case laws.

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  • Sad situation:

    Sad situation …no winner.
    Sad for LKY …

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  • PG:

    There seems to be no peace in the Lee family after LKY passed away in 2015. It affects our country ore reflects badly as a First World country because the Supreme emperor is also in it. First it was Oxleygate with LKY 3 siblings, 2nd is one of LKY grandson (LHY son) and now LKY DIL (LHY spouse). Now, we do not know what the future will hold for us , the citizens. We definitely do not want bad reputation to our nation. The world is watching us.

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  • Law Society is full of crap:

    Laws Society should first finish what it started before going after Lee Suet Fern

    Some years back after Amos Yee was given asylum by a US Court. The Law Society said it would comment on the US court decision to give Amos asylum. It said it would not do it right away because the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appealed the court decision. Well the appeal lost and the asylum for Amos stands. (Amos beat the Singapore Government (and PAP) in US court TWICE. He beat them at their own game of using the legal system to go after critics. He smartly did it in the US so PAP and the Singapore government cannot influence.)

    It has been a few years. To date the Law society has not commented on the Amos getting asylum in the US. What happened? Law Society got nothing to say? Got humiliated after Amos won TWICE in US court?

    Singapore Law Society is a joke.

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