Selina LumWed, Oct 03, 2007
The Straits Times
Teacher Jonathan Lock wins appeal Primary school teacher Jonathan Lock has won his long-drawn legal battle which started as a minor dispute over a puny sum of about $60.
He will not have to pay the $120,000 legal bills he has been saddled with.
The Court of Appeal - the highest in the land - on Wednesday ordered all the different parties to bear their own costs leading up to the appeal.
Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, who presided over the three-judge panel, also ruled that his former lawyer Andrew Hanam cannot bill Mr Lock, without the permission of the Appeal Court, while NTUC Income will have to pay for his Court of Appeal costs.
The CJ also directed the Singapore Law Society to determine if there is a case to hold an inquiry into Mr Hanam's professional conduct.
A vindicated Mr Lock said in a statement after the Appeal Court's judgement: "Although mistakes were made by several parties, I hope that from this landmark case, loopholes, procedures and management will be rectified.
"The common man needs to have a voice, so that no one will ever have to go through what my family and I had gone through."
Mr Hanam, who was also in court on Wednesday morning, said he was confident he would be exonerated by the Law Society, if there were to be an inquiry.
In delivering his judgement, Chief Justice Chan said the high-profile case has degenerated into a contest of wills.
"This case should never have come this far. It would not, if the solicitors in this case had acted reasonably in the interests of their clients," he said.
"A dispute involving a puny sum of about $60 escalated into contests of wills between two solicitors, resulting in wastage of judicial time and unnecessary expenditure in terms of court fees and disbursement which exceeded $100,000 even before the date of this hearing."
Noting that the fees from Mr Lock's ex-lawyer - up to the stage when Mr Hanam discharged himself - had ballooned to $150,000, the CJ said: "We are troubled by this.
"This is an incredible case. We have not seen one like it in all our years in the law. It has brought no credit to counsel involved and the legal system as a whole.
"All that the appellant wanted from the defendant was $375 being $485 for the cost of repairs to his car and $90 for loss of use, for which he eventually agreed to settle at $187.50.
"For this, he was put at risk of having to pay a sum in excess of $100,000 in legal fees."
On Tuesday, Justice V.K Rajah, one of the three appeal judges, rapped the lawyers involved in the case for escalating it from a simple traffic claim into a long, costly feud.
"You used a sledgehammer to crack a nut, when all you needed was a nutcracker," he told the lawyer for NTUC Income, who had challenged an earlier order made by the mediation judge.
Inquiry into ex-counsel's conduct
The Chief Justice also said that in light of the short account given by Mr Lock's new lawyer, Mr Joseph Chen, it is necessary to investigate Mr Hanam for "possible breach of his professional duties" by exposing his client to "unnecessary monetary risks and adverse legal consequences, apparently without his knowledge or consent."
He said he would direct the Registrar of the Supreme Court to refer the matter to the Council of the Law Society to determine whether the Chairman of its Inquiry Committee should look into four areas regarding Mr Hanam's conduct under the Legal Profession Act.
The Inquiry Committee should find out if Mr Hanam had:
Mr Lock has maintained that he was not kept in the loop about the case by Mr Hanam.
- acted with Mr Lock's knowledge or consent in initiating enforcement proceedings in relation to the settlement
- acted in the best interests of Mr Lock in seeking to enforce the settlement agreement
- kept Mr Lock informed or had explained to him the risks involved in taking all the steps he did in the proceedings
- acted inappropriately in sending Mr Lock a bill for $150,000 upon his discharge as counsel in the appeal.
How $60 dispute ended up costing $100,000
Wed, Oct 03, 2007
Mr Lock's motorbike and Ms Goh's car collide in Nov 2004.
Mr Lock files lawsuit against Ms Goh in Sep 2005.
PDRC district judge orders both sides to bear 50% liability ($187.50 each) in Mar 2006
Ms Goh's insurers, NTUC Income, to pay costs of $1,000, plus lawyers' expenses.
DISPUTE OVER COSTS
Lawyers can't agree if Mr Lock's former lawyer Andrew Hanam's expenses is $230 or $290. Mr Hanam takes out writ of seizure and sale against Ms Goh for costs.
Ms Goh's insurer, NTUC Income, pays sum ordered by court and costs.
Between May and Nov, NTUC Income's lawyer, Mr Assomull, attempts to get seizure and March consent order to be set aside.
Appeal is rejected by deputy registrar, District Court.
In Feb 2007, NTUC Income is allowed to take case to High Court.
1st RULING OVERTURNED
On 26 Apri, Justice Lai Siu Chiu rules that PDRC is not a court, March consent order set aside.
Mr Lock must now pay legal costs of $63,000. Sum later revised to $45,000. He fires Mr Hanam, who bills him $80,000.
Last month, NTUC Income serves write of seizure on Mr Lock but later offers to waive $45,000 legal bill and give $25,000 as goodwill money.
Mr Lock turns down offer and proceeds to win appeal in Court of Appeal yesterday.