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Complaints Against a Lawyer

As provided in the Legal Profession Act, two types of complaints can be made against a lawyer:

  1. a complaint of Inadequate Professional Service pursuant to Section 75B Legal Profession Act; and

  2. a complaint of Professional Misconduct pursuant to Section 85(1) Legal Profession Act

A Complaint of Inadequate Professional Service Pursuant to Section 75B Legal Profession Act

Who can make the complaint?

A client can make the complaint against his own lawyer from a Singapore law practice.

What can a client complain about under Section 75B Legal Profession Act?

The complaint must relate to failure of a lawyer to provide adequate professional service to his client by not meeting one or more of the standards prescribed in the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules.

The standards of professional service prescribed in the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules are:

  1. providing diligent legal service to client;

  2. ensuring as a lawyer he is competent to represent his client;

  3. completing work within a reasonable time;

  4. keeping the client informed on the progress of the case;

  5. promptly acknowledging receipt of client's money or securities;

  6. promptly providing statement of accounts to the client;

  7. promptly responding to client's calls or keep appointments made with client;

  8. explaining to the client important developments in his case e.g. offers of settlements;

  9. explaining the manner in which the lawyer would charge for services, explain to the client payments required to be made, provide an estimate of fees and deliver bills of costs to the client at regular intervals; and

  10. discussing the possible risks or expenses of proceedings arising from the case.

How to make the Complaint

Please also refer to the Brief Guide on Laying a Complaint under Section 75B of the Legal Profession Act. Your complaint letter should be in the format set out in the Brief Guide. Where Council determines that the complaint is to be referred for investigation Council requires the complaint to be supported by a Statutory Declaration. The format of the Statutory Declaration is also set out in the Brief Guide.

For more information, click here.

Time Limit for making the Complaint

Council cannot enquire into a complaint of the conduct of a solicitor if the complaint is made to the Society after the expiration of 3 years from the date of the conduct complained of.

Taking steps to Resolve the Matter

In considering what directions to make Council will have regard to any attempts made by you to resolve the matter.

A Complaint of Professional Misconduct Under Section 85(1) Legal Profession Act

Who can make the complaint?

A complaint may be made by a client against his own lawyer or any person against a lawyer who has not been appointed to act for him.

What can a person complain about under Section 85(1) Legal Profession Act?

The lawyer's conduct is not of a standard expected of a lawyer as a member of an honourable profession or as an officer of the Supreme Court.

Examples of professional misconduct include alleged dishonesty, fraud, gross overcharging for work done, making misleading statements, divulging confidential information given by the client to his lawyer, acting in conflict of interest or acting in breach of the Law Society's code of conduct for lawyers.

To make a complaint under Section 85(1) Legal Profession Act, you are required to support your complaint with this Statutory Declaration (Personal) if you are making the complaint in a personal capacity and with this Statutory Declaration (Corporate) if you are making the complaint on behalf of a body corporate.

Please note that a Statutory Declaration is a legal document stating that the statements made in your complaint are true. Making a false declaration may give rise to penalties provided under the Oaths and Declaration Act.

For more information, click here. Please also refer to the Brief Guide on Laying a Complaint under Section 85(1) of the Legal Profession Act. For more information on Statutory Declarations, please refer to the Answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

A Complaint for Inadequate Professional Service Under Section 75B and Professional Misconduct Under Section 85(1) Legal Profession Act

If you wish to make both types of complaint in respect of 1 matter, please refer to both:

  1. Brief Guide on Laying a Complaint under Section 75B of the Legal Profession Act; and

  2. Brief Guide on Laying a Complaint under Section 85(1) of the Legal Profession Act when writing your letter of complaint to the Society.

Points to Note When Making a Complaint Against a Lawyer

All complaints, whether made under section 75B or 85(1) Legal Profession Act must be in writing by way of a letter addressed to the Head, Conduct Department, Law Society of Singapore. Complaints made via email are not acceptable.

Please indicate in the header of your letter whether you are making a complaint under section 75B or section 85(1) or under both section 75B and section 85(1) of the Legal Profession Act against the lawyer.

Your complaint letter should be in the format of the sample(s) provided. Where you are making a complaint under Section 85(1) Legal Profession Act, a Statutory Declaration must be made and the ORIGINAL Statutory Declaration form must be attached to the complaint letter. Without your statutory declaration, the Society is unable to proceed with your complaint.

If you are making a complaint under 75B of the Legal Profession Act a Statutory Declaration is required to be furnished when Council determines that the complaint is to be referred for investigation. The Society will then write to you to furnish a Statutory Declaration.

You may mail your letter to the Society together with the supporting documents delivered by hand or by mail to 'The Law Society of Singapore 39 South Bridge Road Singapore 058673' or by fax to 6536 3855. Where your complaint is under Section 85(1) Legal Profession Act and you are faxing the documents to the Society, please ensure that you mail the Society the original copy of your Statutory Declaration.

How the Law Society Can Help You

If you have suffered a financial loss in consequence of the dishonesty of a lawyer or his staff, you may apply for a grant for compensation from the Compensation Fund administered by the Society.

To apply for a grant, please complete and submit the Application Form, which is also available at the reception counter of the Society Secretariat Office.

When considering an application for compensation from the Compensation Fund, the Council of the Society must satisfy itself that you have exhausted all your civil remedies against the lawyer or his staff for the loss. In appropriate cases, the Council will require that you lay a police report against the lawyer or his staff for the alleged act of dishonesty.

What the Law Society Cannot Do for You

What the Society can do in respect of a complaint against a lawyer is strictly prescribed by the Legal Profession Act. The Society is not empowered to do any act that is not prescribed by the Legal Profession Act.

The Society is not empowered to give any legal advice to any member of public.

When investigating a complaint of misconduct, the Society is not empowered to recover on your behalf any financial loss or damages suffered by you because of the conduct of a lawyer.

The Society is also not empowered to take over the conduct of your case from a lawyer against whom you have laid a complaint nor provide a second opinion nor advise you on the pending matter you have with the lawyer or recommended another lawyer to handle your case.

MAKING A COMPLAINT AGAINST A LAWYER FOR INADEQUATE PROFESSIONAL SERVICE UNDER SECTION 75B OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION ACT

1. What is 'Inadequate Professional Service'?

You can make a complaint of inadequate professional service under Section 75B of the Legal Profession Act (the 'Act') if:

  1. You are a client and are making a complaint against your lawyer; and

  2. You believe your lawyer has failed to provide you with adequate professional service by not meeting one or more of the standards prescribed in the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules.

  3. The conduct complained of must not have occurred more than 3 years prior to the date your complaint is received by the Society.

2. Standards Of Professional Service

The standards can be described as follows:

  1. providing diligent legal service to client;

  2. ensuring as a lawyer he is competent to represent his client;

  3. completing work within a reasonable time;

  4. keeping the client informed on the progress of the case;

  5. promptly acknowledging receipt of client's money or securities;

  6. promptly providing statement of accounts to the client;

  7. promptly responding to client's calls or keep appointments made with client;

  8. explaining to the client important developments in his case e.g. offers of settlements;

  9. explaining the manner in which the lawyer would charge for services, explain to the client payments required to be made, provide an estimate of fees and deliver bills of costs to the client at regular intervals; and

  10. discussing the possible risks or expenses of proceedings arising from the case.

3. How the Council of Law Society Considers Your Complaint

The Council will first look at your complaint of inadequate professional service and decide if under the civil law you should reasonably begin an action for negligence in Court against the lawyer or if having begun such an action of negligence in Court against the lawyer, it would be reasonable for you to proceed with such action and not a complaint against the lawyer.

If the Council is of the view that your appropriate remedy is an action of negligence or there is no information of a breach of the standard disclosed, the Council would inform you of this decision and will not inquire into your complaint.

4. Investigation of a Complaint of Inadequate Professional Services

If the Council is satisfied that it will be appropriate for the Council to investigate your complaint Council may require you to support your complaint with a statutory declaration which must be forwarded to Council before Council will proceed further on the matter. Upon receipt of the statutory declaration Council will write to you asking whether you have any objections to the Council appointing a lawyer-mediator to mediate a settlement of your complaint against the lawyer. If you agree to mediation then, the Council will appoint a mediator who within a month must complete mediation of your complaint and report to the Council whether the mediation attempt has been successful.

If the complaint is not referred to mediation or if mediation has failed the complaint will be referred to an Investigative Tribunal.

5. The Investigative Tribunal

Who Serves on the Investigative Tribunal?

Two practising lawyers will serve as members of the Investigative Tribunal to investigative your complaint.

Powers of the Investigative Tribunal

The Investigative Tribunal will receive your written complaint, obtain an explanation from the lawyer on your complaint and if necessary call for further evidence from you or instruct you or any other party to give documents and books of accounts for inspection.

Time Limits for Inquiry into Your Complaint

The Investigative Tribunal will have between 2 to 6 months to complete its investigation and revert to the Council with a report.

The maximum period of 6 months will be used by the tribunal if it encounters difficulties during its inquiry or if the complaint is a complex one.

6. What Can the Council Do to Remedy a Complaint of Inadequate Professional Service

If a finding of inadequate professional service is made by the Investigative Tribunal and the Council accepts the recommendation of the Investigative Tribunal or the Council of its own accord finds after the inquiry that the lawyer had provided inadequate professional service to you, the Council may direct the lawyer to:

  1. rectify any errors or omissions at his own expense or that of his firm which the Council may specify; or

  2. direct the lawyer to pay compensation (currently not exceedingly S$10,000.00) to you the client; or

  3. direct the costs of your lawyer be reduced to such an amount as the Council directs, refund in whole or part the costs paid by you to the lawyer or waive the collection of any unpaid costs due to the lawyer; or

  4. direct the lawyer to take any action in your interest at his own expense or that of his firm.

7. The Council Can Disagree with the Recommendation of the Investigative Tribunal

The Council may after reading the report and having regard to all the circumstances determine that:

  1. there was no evidence of inadequate professional service rendered to you and dismiss your complaint;

  2. accept the recommendations of the Investigative Tribunal or parts thereof or make such other directions Council may determine; or

  3. if there is evidence of professional misconduct refer the matter to the Inquiry Panel to enquire into the professional conduct of the lawyer.

8. What if the Lawyer Failed to Comply with a Direction Given by the Council to Remedy Your Complaint of Inadequate Professional Service

If the lawyer fails to comply with the direction given by the Council, you can make an application to a Judge of the High Court (sitting in Chambers) who may direct the enforcement of the Council's direction(s) as an order of the High Court.

MAKING A COMPLAINT AGAINST A LAWYER FOR PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT

1. What is 'Professional Misconduct'?

The conduct of a lawyer which is below the standards expected of a lawyer as a member of an honourable profession or as an officer of the Supreme Court. The Council can only refer a complaint to the Chairman of the Inquiry Panel if it is made in accordance to the requirements of the Act.

The complaint of misconduct may be made against a lawyer in a Singapore law practice and is not restricted only to the lawyer engaged and/or appointed to act on your behalf.

2. Examples of Professional Misconduct

Professional misconduct may include dishonesty, fraud, gross overcharging for work done, misleading statements, divulging confidential or privileged information, acting in conflict of interest or acting in breach of the Rules of the Law Society such as the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) or Publicity Rules or Solicitors' Accounts Rules.

3. Who Considers Your Complaint of Misconduct

The First Stage - The Review Process

Your complaint against a lawyer will be referred to the Council which will make the decision to refer the complaint to the Chairman of the Inquiry Panel ('IP').

The Chairman of the IP will then refer the matter to an independent panel of persons appointed by the Chief Justice to review a complaint.

The first stage of the review process of a complaint is to refer the same to a 2-man Review Committee ('RC') consisting of a lawyer and a legal officer. The RC will decide if your complaint is of any substance that must be referred to an inquiry.

If the RC requires any information or document it may call the lawyer or you to provide the information or document whilst carrying out its review process.

If the RC finds your complaint has no substance or it is frivolous, the RC will report to the Council why your complaint should be dismissed. The Council must accept the decision of the RC and will write to you to state the reasons why your complaint was dismissed.

If your complaint is found to merit an inquiry, the Chairman of the IP will refer your complaint to the second stage where an Inquiry Committee would be appointed to conduct an inquiry into your complaint. You and the lawyer named in your complaint will be informed of the final decision of the RC in writing by the Society.

Please read the information below on the powers of an Inquiry Committee.

4. The Inquiry Committee

The Second Stage - The Inquiry Process - Composition of the Inquiry Committee

The members of the Inquiry Committee ('IC') are also appointed from the independent panel of persons appointed by the Chief Justice to carry out the inquiry function. It will, however, consist of two lawyers, a judicial or government legal officer and a lay person (non-lawyer). You can be called upon by the IC to provide information to support your complaint.

When your complaint is referred to the IC, the Society will only correspond with you after receipt of the written IC report. An IC has the power to call for the production and inspection of documents connected with the inquiry or persons to give evidence.

Time limits for Inquiry into a complaint

An IC has a minimum period of 2 months and a maximum period of 6 months from their date of appointment to investigate a complaint if the lawyer is called to respond to the complaint. If the IC is of the view that the lawyer need not be called upon to answer the complaint, the IC will submit its report within 2 months of its appointment to the Law Society.

Powers of the Inquiry Committee to Order Costs against You

Kindly take note that if your complaint is referred for investigation by an IC, the IC may require you to deposit with The Law Society a reasonable sum not exceeding S$1,000 to cover costs and expenses. Further, if the IC finds the complaint to be frivolous or vexatious, the IC may order you to pay any person including the lawyer(s) you have complained against, all or any costs reasonably incurred by the lawyer(s) in the proceedings before the IC or direct that the amount be taxed by the Registrar. Such costs shall be a debt due from you to the lawyer(s) concerned.

Recommendations an Inquiry Committee can make after an inquiry

If an IC finds a case of misconduct has been made out against a lawyer, the IC may recommend that the Society prosecute the complaint before a higher tribunal called a Disciplinary Tribunal or recommend a financial penalty (up to a maximum of $10,000) be imposed on the lawyer that is paid to the Society. If the recommendation is to prosecute the complaint before a Disciplinary Tribunal, the Society will, without any costs to you, prosecute the complaint in the Society's name. You will be called as a witness for the Society's disciplinary proceedings.

If an IC finds no misconduct by the lawyer, it will recommend to the Council that the complaint be dismissed.

You will be informed of the Council's decision on the recommendation of the IC in writing.

Information as of 10 June 2013.