COMPLAINT UNDER THE LAW SOCIETY
The Law Society’s charges alleged that Mdm Kwa had disclosed confidential information to PM Lee – who was not entitled to the details – by including him in an email.
Mdm Kwa admitted in an agreed statement of facts that she did not obtain the consent or authority of Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee before sending the Jun 4, 2015 email to all three Lee siblings.
She admitted that the facts amounted to misconduct unbefitting of an advocate and solicitor as an officer of the Supreme Court or as a member of the profession, as set out under the Legal Profession Act.
However Mdm Kwa, represented by senior counsel Cavinder Bull, argued that the tribunal should issue a reprimand or impose a modest penalty.
Mdm Kwa pitched her breach of confidentiality as the “lowest level”, saying that the late Mr Lee would have wanted her to share the information with all three children, according to the tribunal.
“Her position was that she released the information out of a deep sense of loyalty to (Mr Lee Kuan Yew), although she accepts that she did not have specific instructions from (him) prior to his death, to release such information,” the tribunal stated.
The Law Society, represented by lawyer R S Bajwa, agreed that Mdm Kwa’s culpability and harm caused by the breach was not substantial, but argued that a reprimand was insufficient. It sought a penalty of S$3,000 to S$5,000.
The tribunal accepted Mdm Kwa was replying to queries from Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee “under the notion that she ought to respond to queries from beneficiaries, who also happened to be her first cousins, with whom she grew up”.
“We accept that (Mr Lee Kuan Yew) had previously indicated to her that he would inform his children of his intentions and the reasons for his testamentary dispositions. We also accept that (Mdm Kwa) had a close personal relationship with (him),” said the tribunal.
“We note that there is no evidence before us suggesting that (Mdm Kwa) was acting from any improper motives.”
However, it would have been clear to Mdm Kwa that she was dealing with “sensitive” family issues, and she was aware that Dr Lee had voiced unhappiness on the change in shares of the estate, stated the tribunal.
“In a situation such as the present case, it is imperative that solicitors act strictly within their professional boundaries and exercise care and caution. (Mdm Kwa’s) misconduct was her failure to scrupulously safeguard (Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s) confidentiality; and this misconduct was unbefitting of an advocate and solicitor.”
Apart from the S$5,000 penalty, the tribunal ordered Mdm Kwa to pay the Law Society costs of S$5,000 and to bear all disbursements reasonably incurred.
COMPLAINT UNDER LEE HSIEN YANG
Mr Lee Hsien Yang, who was represented by senior counsel Abraham Vergis, charged that Mdm Kwa misled himself and his sister Dr Lee in emails dated Jun 4 and Jun 22, 2015 – by failing to disclose her communications with their father between November 2013 and Dec 13, 2013, and/or by falsely representing that the late Mr Lee had never instructed her to change his will dated Nov 2, 2012.
The tribunal did not find that the charge was made out in relation to the email dated Jun 4, 2015. It found that there was insufficient evidence to prove that there was any query that required a reference to the November and December 2013 communications.
However, the tribunal agreed with Mr Lee Hsien Yang that the Jun 22, 2015 email contained a request for information relating to the circumstances leading to the execution of the seventh will.
The tribunal found that in her email, Mdm Kwa did not refer to her communications with Mr Lee Kuan Yew between November 2013 and Dec 13, 2013, which would have contained the related information.
Instead, Mdm Kwa said that the late Mr Lee did not instruct her to change his will after signing the sixth version; and that she learned about the seventh will from others.
Mdm Kwa argued that her statement in the email was true and complete as she was not involved in the preparation or execution of the seventh will.
She also argued that her communications with Mr Lee Kuan Yew in November and December 2013 were immaterial.
But the tribunal did not agree.
“The issues are quite simple. The first question is whether the November/December 2013 communications should have been disclosed in response to a query on the background to the signing of (the seventh will),” it said.
“The second question is whether the omission to disclose made the response misleading. The third question is whether it was true that (Mdm Kwa) did not receive any instructions to change (Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s) will.”
Mdm Kwa’s failure to disclose the 2013 communications, and her statement that the late Mr Lee did not instruct her to change his will, gave the “clear and unequivocal impression that (she) had no knowledge as to how (the seventh will) came about”, said the tribunal.
It added that the omission was misleading and that Mdm Kwa’s statement that Mr Lee Kuan Yew did not instruct her to change his sixth will was untrue.
The tribunal assessed the harm from this misconduct to be low and determined a penalty of S$8,000 to be appropriate. It also ordered Mdm Kwa to pay Mr Lee Hsien Yang S$12,000 in costs and S$9,182.29 in disbursements.
For both complaints, the tribunal found that there was no cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action.