A disciplinary tribunal has found Member of Parliament (MP) Christopher de Souza guilty of professional misconduct over his clients' suppression of evidence.
de Souza, a lawyer, is the current deputy speaker of Parliament and People’s Action Party (PAP) MP for Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency (GRC).
He was found guilty in relation to his conduct while acting for his clients, Amber Compounding Pharmacy and Amber Laboratories, reported The Straits Times (ST).
The tribunal found that de Souza was made aware that his client had breached the conditions of a search order, but did not make full and frank disclosure of this to the court upon finding this out.
He was found to have helped his client prepare and file an affidavit that did not contain documents which would have disclosed the clients' breach.
The case and the breaches of conditions
In 2018, Amber obtained certain documents through a search order in 2018, in the midst of suing other parties for allegedly stealing trade secrets, reported ST.
Amber undertook to use the documents only for the suit.
But, Amber used them to file police and other reports against the other parties, according to CNA.
This breached its undertaking not to use the documents without further order.
This occurred before de Souza and his firm, Lee & Lee, took over the matter. He was subsequently made aware of the breaches committed by Amber.
Despite this, de Souza assisted a representative of Amber in filing an affidavit on Jan. 28, 2019, which did not reveal the breaches.
"The crux of the matter is what the respondent should have done upon discovery of the use of the documents and information by Amber," said the disciplinary tribunal, "specifically whether he should have informed the court and opposing counsel of the breach of the undertakings."
Disciplinary Tribunal Report
Five charges were preferred by the Law Society of Singapore, reported CNA.
The five charges arose from actions taken between Dec. 3, 2018, and Jan. 28, 2019.
According to CNA, the charges alleged that de Souza knowingly misled or tried to mislead the court and opposing counsel by failing to inform the court of Amber's prior breaches of its undertaking not to disclose certain documents.
In its report published on Monday, Dec. 5, the tribunal consisting of Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan and Pradeep Pillai said de Souza knew there was a duty to disclose the prior use of the documents and information.
“We are of the view that the failure to make such full and frank disclosure amounted to suppression of evidence by Amber, and by filing the supporting affidavit, the respondent was a party to and assisted in such suppression," said the tribunal.
The tribunal found that the other four charges were not made out. Only the fourth charge was made out, which the tribunal called the "most serious charge".
The charge alleged that de Souza was a party to and assisted Amber in suppressing evidence.
The tribunal found that de Souza's actions amounted to improper conduct and practice, CNA reported.
The tribunal said "his failure to ensure that such disclosure was made is not exculpated by the conduct of the client".
However, it accepted that de Souza had tried to persuade the client to disclose its breaches fully.
The tribunal found there was cause of sufficient gravity for de Souza to face disciplinary sanctions before the Court of Three Judges on one of the five charges brought against him by the Law Society.
The Court of Three Judges is the highest disciplinary body for the legal profession and has the power to suspend or disbar lawyers.
How the matter came to light
de Souza's improper conduct came to light after the parties being sued by Amber appealed, CNA reported.
The Court of Appeal then referred the matter to the Law Society of Singapore in September 2020.
The matter was referred to an independent inquiry committee that was convened on Jan. 13, 2021, reported ST.
The inquiry committee found that de Souza had preached his duty to the court, which may be deemed as misconduct under the Legal Profession Act. It was recommended that he be fined S$2,000.
The committee did not form the view that a formal investigation by a disciplinary tribunal was necessary.
The Law Society council disagreed with these findings and applied on Nov. 5, 2021, to Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon seeking the appointment of a disciplinary tribunal.
This tribunal was appointed by the Chief Justice to hear and investigate the matter on Nov. 19, 2021.
The tribunal heard oral testimonies between Apr. 6 and 12, 2022, and parties made their closing submissions on Aug. 29, 2022.
Statement from de Souza's lawyers and the PAP
Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng and associate Calvin Ong of WongPartnership, de Souza's lawyers, told Mothership: "There is no question that Mr de Souza had acted with utmost integrity in the conduct of this matter at all times. Four of the five charges were dismissed."
“As regards the remaining charge, this is a matter now before the Court of 3 Judges and it is not appropriate for us to comment on the merits at this juncture. Suffice to say that we will strenuously resist it and argue that it too should be dismissed."
A statement from the PAP read that the party was aware of the disciplinary proceedings.
"Mr de Souza has informed us that he denies any wrongdoing. He will argue his case on the one charge, on appeal before the Court of Three Judges," said the statement.
"We will await the verdict of the Court of Three Judges, and determine the course of action necessary after the verdict."
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