Lawyer Lee Suet Fern suspended for 15 months, found guilty of misconduct in handling of Lee Kuan Yew's will
SINGAPORE - Senior lawyer Lee Suet Fern has been suspended for 15 months by the Court of Three Judges, over her handling of the last will of her late father-in-law Lee Kuan Yew.
In a written judgment released on Friday (Nov 20), the highest disciplinary body for the legal profession found Mrs Lee guilty of misconduct unbefitting an advocate and solicitor, for preparing and executing the will from which her husband, Mr Lee Hsien Yang, stood to gain.
A disciplinary tribunal (DT) had found Mrs Lee guilty of grossly improper professional conduct in February this year.
The Court held a virtual hearing in August, where the Law Society set out its arguments for why Mrs Lee should be disbarred over her handling of the will. Mrs Lee's lawyers called for all charges to be dropped.
The Court, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash and Justice Woo Bih Li, said it did not agree with some of the tribunal's findings, in particular that there was an implied retainer between Mrs Lee and the senior Mr Lee and that they were in a solicitor-client relationship.
The Court also said Mrs Lee did not receive instructions or directions directly from the senior Mr Lee.
"Nonetheless, we agree with the DT that the Respondent is guilty of misconduct unbefitting an advocate and solicitor. Given the circumstances and nature of her misconduct, we find it appropriate to suspend the Respondent from practising as a solicitor for a period of 15 months," the court said.
The case centred on the role Mrs Lee played in the preparation and execution of the last will of the late Mr Lee that was signed on Dec 17, 2013. He died on March 23, 2015, at the age of 91.
His last will differed from his sixth and penultimate will in significant ways, and did not contain some changes he had wanted and discussed with his lawyer Kwa Kim Li four days earlier.
Among the differences was a demolition clause - relating to the demolition of his 38 Oxley Road house after his death - which had not been in the sixth or penultimate will but was in the last.
The share of the estate bequeathed to each of his three children was also different, with Dr Lee Wei Ling, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and their elder brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, given equal shares. In the sixth will, Dr Lee was to receive a bigger share.
Mrs Lee's role in the handling of the last will had triggered a complaint by the Attorney-General's Chambers to the Law Society in January last year (2019) about possible professional misconduct.
Deputy Attorney-General Lionel Yee had asked that the case be referred to a disciplinary tribunal and a two-man tribunal, comprising Senior Counsel Sarjit Singh Gill and lawyer Leon Yee Kee Shian, was appointed by CJ Menon.
The tribunal had said in its 206-page grounds of decision that the facts exposed an "unsavoury tale" of how she and her husband had misled the senior Mr Lee to sign a new will without the advice of his usual lawyer, Ms Kwa, who had prepared all six of his previous wills.
The senior Mr Lee was then aged 90 and in poor health.
In August, the court reserved judgment after the virtual hearing.
The Law Society, represented by lawyer Koh Swee Yen, had argued that Mrs Lee had been involved in the will's preparation and execution despite knowing her husband stood to gain from it.
It also said the lawyer of 37 years had hurried her father-in-law through the process of signing it without the advice of his usual lawyer, who had prepared his earlier wills.
Countering the society's arguments before the court, Senior Counsel Kenneth Tan and Professor Walter Woon, a former attorney-general, said Mrs Lee was acting out of affection and concern as a daughter-in-law in assisting Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and was merely performing an administrative role.
They added that there could not have been any conflict of interest because Mr Lee Kuan Yew, "a brilliant lawyer", was fully aware of what he wanted and had consented to Mrs Lee handling the will for him. They called for all charges to be dropped.
In a statement posted on Facebook by her husband Lee Hsien Yang on Friday, Mrs Lee said she disagreed with the decision.
"There was no basis for this case to have even been initiated. This was a private will," she said.
"Lee Kuan Yew knew what he wanted. He got what he wanted. The Court of Three did not find that he was of unsound mind or that he was not in control. He made the decision to revert to his landmark 2011 will following discussions with his lawyer Kwa Kim Li before I was tasked to find a witness. Anyone can revoke their own will while they are alive."