Lawyer Christopher de Souza faces possible disciplinary action for improper professional conduct
A disciplinary tribunal found that Mr Christopher James de Souza, who is also an MP, assisted his client in suppressing evidence by preparing an affidavit that left out information.
SINGAPORE: Lawyer Christopher de Souza faces possible disciplinary action for improper conduct after a tribunal found that he assisted his client in suppressing evidence by preparing and filing an affidavit that left out certain information.
In its findings published on Monday (Dec 5), the disciplinary tribunal said that the information, if included, would have highlighted that his client had breached undertakings by using confidential information and documents.
This information and documents were obtained due to search orders and were to be used only for a High Court suit, but the client instead used them to file police and other reports against parties the client was suing.
The Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) had raised five charges against Mr de Souza – a People's Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC and a Deputy Speaker of Parliament – but a disciplinary tribunal found him guilty of only one charge.
The five charges pertain to Mr de Souza's conduct while he was acting in his capacity as a partner of law firm Lee & Lee, representing Amber Compounding Pharmacy and Amber Laboratories in a High Court suit.
In a judgment published on Monday, the tribunal found that there was cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action against Mr de Souza for the fourth charge of assisting his client in suppressing evidence.
In response to queries from CNA, Mr de Souza's lawyers said "there is no question" that their client had acted with "utmost integrity in the conduct of this matter at all times".
Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng and associate Calvin Ong of WongPartnership said: "Four of the five charges were dismissed.
"As regards the remaining charge, this is a matter now before the Court of Three Judges and it is not appropriate for us to comment on the merits at this juncture. Suffice to say that we will strenuously resist it and argue that it too should be dismissed."
The PAP said in response to CNA's queries that it will determine the course of action necessary after the Court of Three Judges gives its verdict.
"Mr de Souza has informed us that he denies any wrongdoing. He will argue his case on the one charge, on appeal before the Court of Three Judges," the party said.
"Integrity, honesty and incorruptibility are fundamental to the Party. The standing of each PAP MP reflects on the party, and the party expects all MPs to uphold the highest standards," it added.
Amber launched a High Court suit in February 2018 against its former employee, Priscilla Lim Suk Ling, and her new company, UrbanRx Compounding Pharmacy.
Amber was represented at first by Dodwell & Co, whose lawyers applied for search orders to obtain documents and information from the defendants.
The search orders were granted with the express undertaking that Amber was not to use any of the information or documents obtained except for the court proceedings in the High Court suit.
In April 2018, a total of 116,298 documents were seized pursuant to the search orders.
Amber reviewed the documents and thought that some of them pointed to serious criminal offences on the part of the defendants. In a breach of their undertakings, Amber made three reports in 2018 to the Ministry of Manpower, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and the Singapore Police Force, disclosing 10 documents.
This use of documents and information occurred before Mr de Souza and Lee & Lee took over the case.
Around November 2018, Lee & Lee was approached to act for Amber in relation to reports made to the police and other authorities. Internal correspondence at Lee & Lee shows that Mr de Souza and his colleagues knew about the breach.
An email sent by Lee & Lee to Amber on Dec 5, 2018, advised the latter to take immediate steps to remedy it.
The five charges preferred against Mr de Souza arise from actions taken between Dec 3, 2018, and Jan 28, 2019. The charges allege, among other things, that he knowingly misled or tried to mislead the court and opposing counsel, by failing to inform the court of Amber's prior breaches of undertakings not to disclose certain documents.
The disciplinary tribunal found that four of the five charges were not made out. Only the fourth charge was made out, with the tribunal calling this the "most serious charge".
This charge alleges that Mr de Souza was a party to and assisted Amber in suppressing evidence. This was in the preparation and filing of an affidavit of Amber's representative Samuel Sudesh Thaddeus, which did not exhibit certain reports and supporting documents that would have revealed Amber's breaches.
The tribunal found that Mr de Souza's actions amounted to improper conduct and practice. However, it accepted that he did not initiate or encourage the non-disclosure.
The tribunal acknowledged that Mr de Souza insisted that Amber and Samuel make full disclosure.
"However, given the respondent’s admitted cognisance of the importance of full and frank disclosure, his failure to ensure that such disclosure was made is not exculpated by the conduct of the client," said the tribunal.
"We appreciate that it is hardest for a legal practitioner to do his duty when the client is difficult, but it is in such circumstances that the legal practitioner must cleave to his or her duties to the court."
HOW THE CASE CAME TO LIGHT
The improper conduct was unearthed following observations made by the Court of Appeal when the defendants launched appeals against Amber.
The case was then referred to an Inquiry Committee. In July 2021, the committee found that Mr de Souza breached his paramount duty to the court and recommended that he be fined S$2,000.
The committee did not form the view that a formal investigation by a disciplinary tribunal was necessary.
However, the Council of the Law Society disagreed and applied to the Chief Justice for a disciplinary tribunal to be set up. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon appointed the tribunal to hear and investigate the matter in November 2021.
After finding that one of the charges against Mr de Souza was made out, the tribunal ordered him to pay costs of S$18,000 to LawSoc, as well as the society's reasonable disbursements.
The matter of whether any sanction will be imposed on Mr de Souza will be decided in a subsequent hearing. Possible sanctions under the Legal Profession Act range from suspension, fines and being struck off the roll.