Sunday, December 9, 2007

Errant lawyers may soon find themselves under a quicker and sharper disciplinary process.

Errant lawyers may soon find themselves under a quicker and sharper disciplinary process.

A high-level committee headed by Justice V K Rajah has proposed changes to streamline and accelerate various stages of the process, sieving out baseless and vexatious complaints.

The committee recently completed a review of the legal sector.

The Ministry of Law said yesterday that it views the committee’s recommendations as positive moves to fine-tune and improve the disciplinary process.

There is room for improvement as the average time taken by the Disciplinary Committees (DC) to complete cases has doubled from 7.5 months in 2002 to 15.4 months last year.

Part of the reason is that the DC, an independent tribunal appointed by the Chief Justice, comprises two lawyers, one officer from the legal service and a lay person. This composition makes it difficult to schedule early hearings.

So one proposal is to replace the four-man DC with a Disciplinary Tribunal (DT) comprising just one person who could be a senior counsel, retired Judge or Judicial Commissioner.

The Law Society yesterday expressed concern about this proposal and said that the tribunal should continue to have three legally qualified persons.

‘In most jurisdictions, a lawyer is judged by a panel made up of three of his peers,’ the society said in a statement.

To sieve out baseless complaints, the committee has recommended that every complaint be made in writing and supported by a statutory declaration affirming or swearing the truth of the particulars, unless it is made by a public officer. The maximum deposit that complainants have to place will be increased from the current $500 to $1,000.

The DT will also be empowered to order a complainant to pay the costs of proceedings before it if the complaint is found to be frivolous or vexatious.

To prevent the disciplinary process from stalling, judicial review of the DT’s decision should also only be allowed after the tribunal has completed its hearings, the committee said.

Source : Business Times - 7 Dec 2007

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