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Singapore

Former lawyer at top legal firm struck off for taking upskirt, other intrusive photos of colleague

Former lawyer at top legal firm struck off for taking upskirt, other intrusive photos of colleague

File photo of the Supreme Court in Singapore. (Photo: AFP)

SINGAPORE: A former Drew & Napier lawyer was on Thursday (May 19) ordered to be struck off the roll of advocates and solicitors for taking upskirt and other intrusive photos of his colleague in the office.

The man's name cannot be published due to a gag order on his identity. The victim's identity is also protected.

He was previously sentenced to four weeks' jail in June 2020, after pleading guilty to two charges of insulting the modesty of a woman.

The Court of Three Judges on Thursday released its ruling on disciplinary action against the lawyer after an application by the Law Society of Singapore, which had called for his suspension.

In April 2017, the man and the victim were both working late in the office when he decided to take photos of her to "ease his stressful state", noted the court. 

Pretending to read the victim's computer screen, the man leaned over from behind, resting his body on her chair. He took photos of her brassiere and chest, which were exposed because the neckline of her dress was loose.

He went back to his room to view the photos, then returned to the victim's cubicle a few minutes later and took several photos of her underwear before leaving. He looked at all of the photos before deleting them.

In October 2017, the man entered the victim's room when she was having lunch. He struck up a conversation and proceeded to take upskirt photos of her.

Each time the victim swivelled her chair back to face her desk, the man continued talking to her to get her to turn towards him again.

When the victim crossed her legs, the man "asked her whether it was painful for females to sit cross-legged for too long, and how long she could sit in that way", noted the court.

He then stood up, rested his buttocks on the victim's desk and pressed his thigh against her upper arm. He subsequently returned to his room and looked at the upskirt photos before deleting them.

The victim lodged a police report in November 2017 that a colleague had outraged her modesty. The man resigned from the firm about a week later.

IMPACT ON VICTIM

The victim called the man one of her "closest friends" in the office in a victim impact statement, and said she had suffered from nightmares about him after the incidents.

She said that the man had asked her to drop the case after the police informed him of the allegations, and that he had carried out "emotional blackmail" by invoking their mutual friends, his ill mother and even his own safety. This led to her harming herself.

She described how she would continue to run into the man in his court robes, and how tense this made her. "I feel safer walking the streets ... at midnight than the halls of the Supreme Court by day," she said.

The man initially claimed trial to the criminal charges, and the victim also described the emotional toll the pending trial took on her as she played back the offences in her head in preparation for cross-examination.

STRIKING OFF

The Court of Three Judges noted that the man did not respond to multiple attempts to notify him of the disciplinary proceedings in person and by courier, phone call and email. He did not attend any of the hearings.

Delivering the judgment on behalf of the court, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the man's misconduct pointed to character defects that made him unfit to be a member of the legal profession.

The judgment cited his "premeditated and persistent" misconduct, his "opportunistic exploitation" of the victim's expectation of safety in the workplace and his pressuring of the victim to drop the case.

"Instead of evincing genuine remorse, the respondent attempted to save his own skin by waging a war of emotional attrition against (the victim), in the hope that she would buckle under the pressure. We find this deeply disturbing," said Chief Justice Menon.

The judges also considered the man's failure to plead guilty at an early stage and his absence from the proceedings, which indicated "at worst, his disdain" for the disciplinary process.

Finally, they found that his "egregious" conduct caused grave dishonour to the standing of the legal profession.

The Court of Three Judges is the highest disciplinary body to deal with lawyers' misconduct. The panel for this hearing comprised Chief Justice Menon, Justice Steven Chong and Justice Andrew Phang.

A spokesperson from Drew & Napier said its firm has "a strict zero-tolerance policy towards misconduct of any nature". 

"Our colleagues work hard to maintain a supportive and respectful work environment with an open-door policy. We are fully committed to ensuring that every single member of our firm feels safe and that reported cases of misconduct, sexual or otherwise are responded to swiftly. Appropriate steps were taken when the allegations came to light."

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that it was the offender, and not the victim, who resigned about a week after the police report was made in November 2017. We apologise for the error.

Source: CNA/dv(ac)

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