Singapore lawyer Lee Suet Fern disagrees with suspension, says Lee Kuan Yew ‘got what he wanted’ in his last will

Lee Suet Fern in 2015 in front of an exhibit at the We Built a Nation exhibit at the National Museum of Singapore made up of furniture and artefacts from the late Lee Kuan Yew’s Oxley Road home. — TODAY pic
Lee Suet Fern in 2015 in front of an exhibit at the We Built a Nation exhibit at the National Museum of Singapore made up of furniture and artefacts from the late Lee Kuan Yew’s Oxley Road home. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Nov 21 — Prominent lawyer Lee Suet Fern said yesterday that she disagrees with the Court of Three Judges’ decision to suspend her from practice for 15 months.

She was found guilty on Friday of “misconduct unbefitting an advocate and solicitor” over her handling of the last will of her late father-in-law Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding prime minister.

In a statement, Lee, the wife of Lee Kuan Yew's younger son Lee Hsien Yang, said that there was no basis for investigations into possible breaches in her professional conduct to have been initiated in the first place.

The Court of Three Judges — the highest disciplinary body dealing with lawyers’ misconduct — ruled that Lee acted with “complete disregard” for the interests of Lee Kuan Yew and “blindly followed the directions of her husband” by rushing through the execution of his last will.

The late statesman signed this will on December 17, 2013 — about 15 months before his death.

Lee’s suspension is the latest development in a long-running dispute between two of Lee Kuan Yew’s children, Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, and their brother Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the first-born, over the fate of their family home at 38 Oxley Road.

Lee, who has been practising law for 37 years and is a partner with law firm Morgan Lewis Stamford, was being investigated over whether she had breached her professional duties in the preparation and execution of her father-in-law’s last will, which contained a clause stating that the house should be demolished.

The family dispute was made public in June 2017, when Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee posted a six-page statement on Facebook, accusing PM Lee of abusing his authority to prevent the demolition of the house.

Lee Kuan Yew had seven wills in total, and from the fifth will onwards, the demolition clause was omitted but was reinstated in the seventh and last will, which was drawn up with Lee’s involvement.

In her statement, Lee said that her father-in-law's will was a private will and that the judges did not find that he was of unsound mind or that he was not in control.

“Lee Kuan Yew knew what he wanted. He got what he wanted,” she said.

He could have easily made another will, as he had done several times before, she said.

The court also found that Lee Kuan Yew was content with his will.

“No complaint had ever been lodged by my father-in-law, Lee Kuan Yew, nor by any of his beneficiaries or his personal lawyer for his various wills, Kwa Kim Li,” she said.

Instead, the investigations into her professional conduct came about from a complaint by the Attorney-General’s Chambers years later.

Lee Hsien Loong made extensive submissions, but did not present himself as a witness and was also not subject to cross-examination, she added.

The court also found that no solicitor-client relationship existed between Lee and her late father-in-law.

This formed the basis for acquitting Lee of gross improper conduct, something she was found guilty of during a disciplinary tribunal in February.

She said: “The court found there was no dishonesty in my dealings with Lee Kuan Yew and there was no finding that the will was procured by fraud or undue influence.”

In a Facebook post on Friday, Lee Hsien Yang said that his wife had been suspended even though the court found that she had not been acting as his father’s lawyer.

Responding to queries from TODAY, Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) president Gregory Vijayendran noted that the Court of Three Judges had ruled that the primary charges brought by the LawSoc against Lee had not been made out.

These charges had been predicated on an “implied retainer”, that is, the assertion that Lee had been acting for Lee Kuan Yew.

However, the court found that the alternative charges had been made out, he said.

These charges had relied on:

  • A failure to advance Lee Kuan Yew's interests unaffected by Lee’s interests or the interests of Lee Hsien Yang, or both
  • Acting in respect of a significant testamentary gift and failing to advise Lee Kuan Yew to be independently advised in respect of this gift

Vijayendran said: “Despite the absence of an implied retainer, the Court of Three Judges found, among other things, that the potential conflict of interest presented by divided loyalties must have been patent to the respondent (Lee).” 

The court found that there was “a moderate degree of culpability and harm”, he added.Vijayendran noted that the LawSoc’s self-regulation function was vital.

“But it is always a sad day for the legal profession when a respected, senior member of the bar is taken to task for ethical transgressions.” — TODAY

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