Singaporean lawyer suspended for five years for ‘disgraceful’ behaviour in molestation trial
Lawyer asked the victim in the case to stand up and sit down in order to assess her attractiveness, while scrutinising her chest
By Louisa Tang
Singaporean lawyer Edmund Wong Sin Yee, who had been widely criticised for his “scandalous” cross-examination of a female molest victim in 2016, has been suspended from practising law for five years — the maximum punishment for lawyers hauled before a disciplinary hearing in the country.
Mr Chandra Mohan, who was representing the Law Society of Singapore, had sought a suspension of 12 to 18 months for Mr Wong based solely on his behaviour during the 2016 trial.
But a coram of three Court of Appeal judges who presided over the hearing on Wednesday — Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, and Judges of Appeal Judith Prakash and Steven Chong — decided to impose the maximum penalty on the lawyer.
The judges also had harsh words for Mr Wong, and deemed his behaviour during the trial “cruel and humiliating”. His suspension will commence in two weeks.
Mr Wong, who is in his late 50s and runs S Y Wong Law Chambers, was not present in court on Wednesday. He was represented by Mr Suang Wijaya and Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, who declined to say why their client was absent from the disciplinary hearing.
Mr Wong was hauled up for grossly improper conduct during the 2016 trial that involved a case of outrage of modesty.
He had sought to argue that women sporting low-cut tops made them more likely targets of molestation, and also asked the victim in that particular case to stand up and sit down in order to assess her attractiveness, while scrutinising her chest.
A district judge and Law Minister K Shanmugam rapped Mr Wong for his “scandalous” cross-examination of the victim.
Mr Shanmugam also cited the incident when he called for changes to the Criminal Procedure Code, which among other things, bar lawyers from dredging up or posing questions about the victims’ sexual history and appearance. The changes were passed earlier this year.
Defending his client, Mr Thuraisingam said Mr Wong’s focus on the victim’s attractiveness was to establish her as a “plain Jane”, such that the accused would not have noticed her.
“Are we in the business of beauty contests?” retorted Chief Justice Menon.
Judge of Appeal Prakash added: “The appropriate way to do it is for the accused to testify… instead of (Mr Wong) asking if she’s pretty, and apparently staring at her.”
Chief Justice Menon further rebuked Mr Wong when delivering his oral judgement on Wednesday, saying that he could not “find any plausible basis that his cross-examination of the victim can be justified”. His line of questioning, which focused on how pretty the victim was, was “irrelevant and wholly impermissible”.
“The reasonable conclusion is that (Mr Wong) embarked on a line of cross-examination to humiliate the victim and subject her to treatment that was wholly demeaning… it was disgraceful and an abuse of privilege given to officers to the court,” Chief Justice Menon added.
He further noted that Mr Wong has “consistently maintained that he has not done anything wrong”. It would be extremely difficult to reform someone who does not even admit to his wrongdoing, he added.
The Chief Justice also pointed to Mr Wong’s long list of previous convictions dating back more than 20 years, such as for insulting the modesty of a woman and careless driving. The lawyer was also arrested in 2005 on suspicion of heading a multi-million-dollar ketamine trafficking syndicate overseas, and jailed for four months for drug use.
The Court of Appeal will release the written grounds of decision on the case at a later date.