During the time that I was practising (and even thereafter), I had not come across any instance where a Law Society representive turned up in a court to raise the issue of the competency of a lawyer to carry on with the proceedings. As lawyers, we are hung up (more than anything else) on procedural rules. Being mindful of procedure is second nature to lawyers. It was, therefore, surprising to find out that Mr Wong Siew Hong (the head of the sub-committee for Member Care in the Law Society), turned up in court with a letter written by a medical professional. (The propriety of that disclosure by the medical professional is a separate issue and ought to be properly examined by the Singapore Medical Council. But, there might be justification based on a pre-existing direction for M Ravi to be examined by a medical professional in relation to his condition.)
What shocked me the most was the fact that whilst Mr Wong might be characterised as having had “good intentions” (as stated by the Law Society), it is unpardonable that after being rebuffed by Justice Pillai in the morning, he still proceeded to adopt the same method of interfering with proceedings in two other matters involving M Ravi’s firm. It does not help that the 3 cases that he attempted to intervene in were political cases. Public perception of the Law Society is bound to get seriously damaged by these actions of Wong.
The three attempted interventions (based on reports that have surfaced so far):
a) The Hougang by-election case
b) The SDP illegal assembly case
c) The IMF loan judicial review case
Of course, it might have in all probability been a mere coincidence that on the day that Wong received information of M Ravi’s condition, there were legal proceedings with political overtones going on. But, the problem is that as a matter of public perception, Wong’s real intention doesn’t matter. He should have addressed his mind to this and not acted hastily. Fine. He may have lapsed somewhat when he turned up before Justice Pillai. He might have sincerely felt that he was duty bound to alert the court of Ravi’s condition so as to protect the interest of the litigant. But, after Justice Pillai had rightly pointed out that Ravi has a valid practising certificate and the Court would not enquire beyond that, Wong should have gotten back to the LS Council to take the proper procedural steps. Instead, Wong attempted (reportedly) on two further occasions to intervene in Ravi’s court proceedings.
I am glad that the President of the Law Society has come forward to clarify that Wong acted on his own volition. At this stage I do not expect the Law Society to publicly chastise Wong. But, after thoroughly investigating this fiasco, the Law Society must in some way take Wong to task. The legal profession does not look very good when a Law Society representative goes on a frolic of his own to intervene in court proceedings without making any formal application. The fact that Wong did not cease in his intervention attempt despite a rebuff from Justice Pillai is unacceptable whichever way one might try to justify it as a case of ‘good intentions’.
The Law Society itself got its facts wrong initially (which was itself somewhat comedic). But, I am willing to cut the Society some slack on that. But, some action is needed to drive home the point that Wong’s repeated attempts at intervention in Ravi’s proceedings is not the kind of conduct that the Law Society is willing to condone.