Singapore, Jan 17 (IANS) An Indian-origin lawyer with more than 25 years of experience in the field has been handed a one-year suspension for false attestation of documents in Singapore.
While several documents were not signed in her presence, Kasturibai Manickam falsely attested in 2020 that they were, The Straits Times newspaper reported on Tuesday.
The Law Society of Singapore had argued for 30 months’ suspension for Manickam but the Court of Three Judges said this was an instance of a “grave error of judgment” rather than a character defect.
There was no dispute that the documents were signed by the intended signatories, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who was leading the bench, said.
He said Manickam’s error was to decide to attest that she witnessed the signing of the documents because she knew the parties and thought no harm would ensue.
The court allowed Manickam’s suspension to take effect on March 7.
The judges heard that Manickam had acted for two siblings — Santha Devi V Puthenveetil Kesava Pillay and her brother, Raman Puthenveetil Kesava Pillay — who were the registered owners of a condominium unit.
Manickam’s firm, East Asia Law Corporation, had previously acted for the Pillays in several matters prior to the sale of the property.
The Pillays had sold their condominium unit in September 2020 to two individuals, according to the news report.
In the course of acting for the siblings, Manickam prepared six documents for the transaction, which were all signed by Santha Devi.
Between September 7 and November 5, 2020, Manickam signed as a witness to Santha Devi’s signature, but did not witness the signing.
Five of the documents — a transfer instrument, a seller’s stamp duty declaration, and a letter of authority for the sale proceeds to be paid to the firm — were sent to the law firm acting for the purchasers.
Santha Devi later lodged a complaint with the Law Society against Manickam, following which a disciplinary tribunal was appointed in May 2022 to investigate the matter.
At the tribunal hearing, Manickam admitted that she signed as a witness to Santha Devi’s signature despite not having witnessed the signing.
Arguing on behalf of Manickam, Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan said the lawyer did not act for her personal benefit.
He said Manickam did so only to help her elderly clients avoid travel during the Covid-19 pandemic, adding that there was very little harm caused, as the transaction was legitimate.
The tribunal found Manickam’s act of false attestation involved an element of dishonesty, constituting grossly improper conduct, and referred it to the court for further action.
The tribunal found that the case was serious enough to be referred to the court, which has the power to suspend or disbar lawyers.
During the court hearing on Tuesday, Sreenivasan said his client would like to tender her deepest apologies to the court and to the profession.
The court allowed the suspension to take effect on March 7, to give her time to find another lawyer to take over her files.