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Indian-origin Singapore lawyer suspended for falsely attesting documents

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Law Judiciary Supreme Court High Court Justice Verdict Judgement

Singapore: An Indian-origin lawyer who falsely attested that she had witnessed the signing of several property-related documents despite those not being signed in her presence was handed a one-year suspension.

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The Law Society of Singapore argued for a 30 months' suspension for Kasturibai Manickam -- a lawyer with more than 25 years' experience -- acting for two siblings who were the registered owners of a condominium unit.

The Court of Three Judges, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, however, said this was an instance of a "grave error of judgement" rather than a character defect, according to a report by The Straits Times.

There was no dispute that the documents were signed by the intended signatories, Chief Justice Menon said.

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Kasturibai's error was to decide to attest that she witnessed the signing because she knew the parties and thought no harm would ensue, he said.

Santha Devi V Puthenveetil Kesava Pillay and her brother Raman Puthenveetil Kesava Pillay had sold the property in September 2020 to two individuals.

Kasturibai's firm -- East Asia Law Corporation -- had acted for the siblings in several matters prior to the sale of the property. Raman's wife was also a long-time employee of the firm.

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In the course of acting for the siblings, Kasturibai prepared six documents for the transaction, all of which were signed by Santha Devi.

Between September 7, 2020, and November 5, 2020, Kasturibai signed as a witness to Santha Devi's signature, even though the lawyer did not witness the signing.

Five of the documents, including a transfer instrument, were sent to the law firm acting for the purchasers.

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Santha Devi later lodged a complaint with the Law Society of Singapore against Kasturibai and a disciplinary tribunal was appointed in May 2022 to formally investigate the matter.

The tribunal's report, issued in October 2022, did not elaborate on the events leading to the complaint.

During the tribunal hearing, Kasturibai admitted that she signed as a witness to Santha Devi's signature despite not having witnessed the signing.

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Senior Counsel N Sreenivasan, Kasturibai's lawyer, argued that she did not act for her personal benefit and that her motivation for was to help her elderly clients avoid travel during the Covid pandemic.

He also argued that there was very little harm caused as the transaction was legitimate.

The tribunal found that Kasturibai's act involved an element of dishonesty and constituted grossly improper conduct.

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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 hearing on January 16, Sreenivasan said Kasturibai wanted 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 Kasturibai time to find another lawyer to take over her files.

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