SINGAPORE, May 20 — A lawyer who worked in one of Singapore’s largest law firms was struck off the roll on Thursday (May 19), almost two years after he was jailed for four weeks for taking intrusive photos of a female colleague.

Delivering the decision by the Court of Three Judges, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said that the lawyer’s misconduct has caused “grave dishonour” and would “besmirch the reputation of the legal profession” if he were allowed to continue practising.

“His misconduct was not a temporary aberration, but evinced disturbing predatory instincts, which cannot be tolerated in society, much less among members of an honourable profession,” Chief Justice Menon said.

The names of the lawyer and his law firm were not disclosed in Thursday’s judgement. The court previously issued a gag order protecting the victim’s identity, meaning the lawyer’s name cannot be revealed.

The lawyer, who was in his 20s when he committed the offences in October 2017, is a Singaporean who had graduated with the highest distinction from a university here.

The court’s decision to disbar the lawyer comes after the Law Society of Singapore, which brought the charges against the lawyer, sought a suspension of three-and-a-half to five months.

The Court of Three Judges is the highest disciplinary body to deal with lawyers’ misconduct. Its latest decision means that he will not be allowed to practise as an advocate or a solicitor in Singapore.

The lawyer’s case was heard on March 3 by the Court of Three Judges comprising Chief Justice Menon, Justice Andrew Phang and Justice Steven Chong. They had earlier reserved judgement.

Thursday’s judgement came a day after the same court decided to disbar entertainment lawyer Samuel Seow Theng Beng, who physically and verbally abused his employees.

What happened

During the criminal proceedings, the court heard that the accused, the victim and another colleague would frequently go for lunches, dinners and movies together.

If they were both working late, the accused and the victim would often wait for each other to finish work before taking taxis home separately.

Sometime in April 2017, he went to her cubicle and took compromising photographs of her while she was seated facing her computer, wearing a dress with a loose-fitting neckline.

He leaned over her from behind on the pretext of reading something on her computer screen and positioned his mobile phone over her shoulder to take the photographs.

Shortly after, he returned to his room, an office space he shared with another lawyer, to review the photographs he had just taken.

He returned to her office a few minutes later to take more photos — this time, sneakily taking several photographs of her panties.

In another incident on Oct 11 that year, the victim was having lunch in her office when he entered the room and closed the door behind him.

He started to chat with her while seated on the floor.

When she swivelled her chair to face him, he started to take photographs up her skirt using his mobile phone.

The victim started noticing that something was amiss and swivelled her chair back to face her desk.

The accused continued talking to the victim to try to get her to face him again.

Twice, he asked her to show him what she was having for lunch while his camera lens was still facing her legs.

He later stood up, walked towards her desk, sat on it and pressed his thigh against her upper arm as he spoke to her.

The victim reported the matter to the police about a month later.

In November 2019, the lawyer claimed trial to all of the four criminal charges he faced — three counts of taking intrusive photos and one molestation charge.

However, in June 2020, he decided to plead guilty to two of the charges and agreed to having the two other charges taken into consideration during his sentencing.

Victim traumatised by incident

On June 4, 2020, the victim recorded an impact statement in which she described the “immediate emotional effect” of the offences, the emotional toll the proceedings had taken on her and the longer-term emotional effect of the offences.

“After realising what the accused had done to me, I was angry at the accused for what he did. But I was more angry at the accused for the way that he did it,” she wrote.

“This was one of my closest friends in the office, doing this to me repeatedly while always making a point to remind me that I was his best friend.”

She said that after the first incident in early 2017, she was already sure of what had happened but allowed it to happen to her again later that year.

“I felt that, in a way, I was responsible for letting this happen to me again. I hated myself for being so stupid and blind.”

She added that she became afraid to go to work and would carry a long umbrella to work every day to protect herself if she needed it.

Even after the lawyer resigned, he moved a few buildings down the road to another law firm and she would often run into him at the High Court.

Eventually, she left the law firm and went to work at another firm.

“I feel safer walking the streets... at midnight than the halls of the Supreme Court by day.”

She said that after she reported the incidents to the police, the lawyer started contacting her to drop the case, saying that the case would hurt his mother, who was very sick.

“He threatened to commit suicide,” she wrote. “He also used our mutual friends in his emotional blackmail... these mutual friends came to me to express concern for the accused’s well-being, to tell me how much I would regret it if he really killed himself.”

The emotional blackmail got so bad that she started physically harming herself in guilt, she wrote.

The trauma of the incident eventually affected her work. She would get overwhelmed when dealing with cases of sexual assault and started pushing away work that required her to meet with a male client after work hours.

The victim said that she was no longer practising law.

“I know the accused might lose some things at sentencing, but he was the one who committed these offences. I did not do anything wrong, but I have lost as well.”

‘We find this deeply disturbing’

On Thursday, Chief Justice Menon said the court found that the lawyer’s conduct was premeditated and persistent.

And after the victim reported the matter to the police, the lawyer did not show any remorse and tried 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,” Chief Justice Menon said.

Noting that the lawyer pleaded guilty at the State Courts only in June 2020, some three years after the offences, Chief Justice Menon said that the lawyer’s delay in admitting to his offence was further evidence of his unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions.

He also noted that the lawyer had not attended the court proceedings that were looking into his misconduct despite many attempts to contact him.

This underscored the “utter lack of remorse on his part”, Chief Justice Menon said, noting that the lawyer offered no reason for his absence.

“In our view, the respondent’s absence from these proceedings is at best indicative of his disinterest and, at worst, his disdain,” he added.

Had the lawyer really been remorseful, he would have appeared before the disciplinary tribunal and the Court of Three Judges and demonstrated his willingness to face the consequences of his actions.

“His lack of remorse and unwillingness to accept responsibility for his actions only fortifies our conclusion that his misconduct stems from an underlying character defect rather than a momentary lapse in judgement,” Chief Justice Menon said.

“For these reasons, we consider that the respondent’s misconduct attests to character defects rendering the respondent unfit to be a member of the legal profession.” — TODAY