Blackstone silk seeks admittance to Singapore courts for JR battle

Blackstone Chambers silk Michael Fordham QC has applied for temporary admission to Singapore’s courts to launch a judicial review relating to alleged overbilling by local firm WongPartnership.

Fordham’s application has been filed in Singapore, although it is understood that no date has yet been set for the High Court to consider the matter.

If admitted, he will launch a judicial review for Deepak Sharma, the husband of Singaporean surgeon Susan Lim, into a Law Society of Singapore decision relating to fees charged by WongPartnership on a 2012 dispute between Lim and the Singapore Medical Council (SMC). WongPartnership acted for the SMC on the case while Lim was represented by Rajah & Tan.

That dispute arose after Lim treated the Queen of Brunei’s sister and was subsequently accused of overcharging. The SMC found her guilty of professional misconduct and imposed a three-year suspension from practice and a S$10,000 fine. Having lost an appeal into the decision, Lim was ordered to pay the SMC’s legal costs.

The SMC was represented in the case by WongPartnership senior partner Alvin Yeo and Melanie Ho, deputy head of the firm’s specialist and private client disputes practice. Sharma disputed their total bill of just over S$1m, which was then sent to a taxation hearing, as is normal practice in Singapore when bills submitted by a winning party are disputed.

The assistant registrar at the taxation hearing reduced WongPartnership’s total bill to the SMC to S$340,000, but when the winning party disputed this in the High Court it was increased to S$370,000.

Sharma complained to the Law Society of Singapore about what he termed the initial “overcharging”, alleging “grossly improper conduct”, and the matter was looked at by a Law Society review committee made up of a senior practitioner from the Singapore bar and a deputy senior state counsel.

The committee dismissed Sharma’s complaint and it is this decision that he is seeking a judicial review on. As he claims to have approached, and been turned down by, 20 senior counsel in Singapore, Sharma is now looking to have Fordham fight the matter for him.

A 2012 amendment to Singapore’s Legal Profession Act has made it easier for foreign counsel to apply for ad hoc admission to the city-state’s courts, so long as they can demonstrate that they have “special qualifications or experience for the purpose of the case”.

Although Fordham, who wrote the Judicial Review Handbook and co-edits the quarterly journal Judicial Review, specialises in judicial reviews his admission to Singapore’s courts is by no means guaranteed.

Last year Fordham’s set-mate Michael Beloff QC was granted permission by Singapore’s High Court to represent nTan Corporate Advisory as it sought to set aside a previous Court of Appeal decision. However, in May this year the appeal court overturned that decision, stating that he did not meet the criteria required for the ad hoc admission of foreign counsel.

Fordham and Blackstone did not respond to requests for comment. WongPartnership declined to comment.