Mr Gan, reasonable or unreasonable?

I refer to the 11 Nov 2014 Straits Times report “Costs must not hinder SMC’s role to protect public: Gan”.

Mr Gan said that taxation means apportionment of costs incurred by the winning party to the losing party that has nothing to do with whether or not the costs are reasonable.

But according to the 26 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “Exorbitant, unreasonable: High Court slashes SMC’s claims”:

the SMC has been told by the High Court that it asked for too much from Dr Lim in two bills totalling over $2 million.

Assistant Registrar Jacqueline Lee scrutinised the second bill before giving her reasons why the SMC was asking for too much.

Mr Gan, is asking for too much reasonable or unreasonable?

Assistant Registrar Jacqueline Lee decided what was claimed for both Ms Melanie Ho and Ms Lim Wei Lee should not be allowed, and the $514,000 claimed for Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo’s work was too high.

Mr Gan, the claim for Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo’s work was too high is reasonable or unreasonable?

She also pointed out that “collectively, Mr Yeo, Ms Ho and Ms Lim allegedly spent 718 hours” – much less than the 1,900 hours claimed for.

Mr Gan, claiming for 1,900 hours when Mr Yeo, Ms Ho and Ms Lim collectively spent only 718 hours is reasonable or unreasonable?

Ms Lee noted the start date for the bill was before the second disciplinary committee had even been formed.

Mr Gan, billing even before the disciplinary committee had been formed is reasonable or unreasonable?

Questioning the number of hours of work by Mr Coomaraswamy, she said: “Even rounding up all the hours taken for the nine pre-inquiry conferences and the five inquiry hearings, they should add up to no more than 32 hours. This only leaves one to wonder how the second legal assessor spent the balance of approximately 180 hours.”

Mr Gan, claiming 180 hours when the hours add up to no more than 32 hours is reasonable or unreasonable?

She said it was not fair for Dr Lim to be charged $1,050 per hour for Mr Coomaraswamy’s work, when the previous legal assessor had charged $570 per hour

Mr Gan, charging $1,050 per hour compared to $570 per hour previously is reasonable or unreasonable?

But his $14,000 bill for a day’s expert evidence was very high, particularly since it “did not involve complex, technical or medical expertise”, said Ms Lim.

Mr Gan, charging $14,000 for a day’s work that is neither complex, technical nor requiring medical expertise is reasonable or unreasonable?

“Dr Hong’s fees of $6,000 just for ‘standing by’ – waiting to take the witness stand – are also exorbitant,” said Ms Lee.

Mr Gan, charging $6,000 for standby is reasonable or unreasonable?

She also criticised his separate $6,000 bill for preparing the trial report, for which Dr Tan had charged only $1,000.

Mr Gan, charging $6,000 when a fellow doctor charged only $1,000 is reasonable or unreasonable?

She took issue as well with another $14,000 charged by Dr Hong, an SMC council member since last year, for his trial preparation which stretched from March 2009 to February 2010.
The period started “even before the notice of inquiry was issued” to Dr Lim, she noted.

Mr Gan, charging even before issue of notice of inquiry is reasonable or unreasonable?

If what Mr Gan says is true, that SMC lawyer fees are merely apportioned between Dr Lim and SMC, does that mean that SMC has to pay the balance of $1 million – $370,000 = $630,000 for the first bill and $1.3 million – $317,000 = $983,000 for the second bill?

If that’s the case, SMC should now join hands with Dr Lim and choose not to pay their lawyers the balance because the judge has already ruled the balance amount is too much, too high, not fair and exorbitant.

Straits Times, Costs must not hinder SMC’s role to protect public: Gan, 11 Nov 2014

FINANCIAL considerations, such as the funds to hire the right lawyers, should not hinder the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) from carrying out its duty of regulating the medical profession, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

The SMC must carry out its public duty to ensure that patients’ interests are protected.

The minister said this in a written answer to questions from Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam in Parliament last week.

“If (the SMC) fails to pursue such cases (because of) financial considerations, there will be a loss of confidence in its ability to safeguard the interests of patients and in the integrity of the medical profession,” Mr Gan said.

He gave the assurance that the SMC “will continue to ensure that the legal fees of the law firms engaged are reasonable and commensurate with the work done”.

Mr Giam’s question was: How many doctors found guilty by the professional watchdog of wrongdoing and who had to pay the SMC for the cost of hearing have had their bills reduced following court taxation?

Taxation in this case refers to getting the High Court to arbitrate a bill when there is a dispute following a disciplinary hearing.

A doctor convicted in a disciplinary hearing usually has to bear the cost incurred by the SMC. If a doctor is cleared, each side bears its own cost.

The minister also gave details on cases of medical bills that were disputed between 2011 and last year.

The SMC concluded a total of 44 disciplinary hearings in those three years. Six doctors were cleared of the charges.

In the rest of the cases, six bills were disputed and the taxation process was completed.

The disputed bills were reduced by a total of $926,000. Some of the remaining 32 bills are still being negotiated or are awaiting outcome of appeals, said Mr Gan.

One of the cases under negotiation is the more than $2 million in costs that the SMC billed Dr Susan Lim.

The High Court reduced the amount to under $700,000, but the SMC is appealing against the huge cut.

Dr Lim had been found guilty of overcharging her Brunei royal patient and both she and the SMC had employed senior counsels as their lawyers in the disciplinary hearing.

The costs involved in the case were further raised by the appeals made to the High Court.

Mr Gan also noted that in the six cases where taxation took place, the SMC recovered between 37 per cent and 78 per cent of the bills presented to the doctors.

He explained that taxation determines the proportion of the costs incurred by the winning party that the losing party has to bear, adding: “It must not be confused with whether the legal fees incurred were reasonable.”

He said there is usually a “considerable difference” between what the losing party eventually pays and the costs incurred by the winning party.

Mr Gan also pointed out that “invariably, the legal expertise required and the costs of the disciplinary process increase with the complexity of the cases”.

Straits Times, Exorbitant, unreasonable: High Court slashes SMC’s claims, 26 Oct 2014

The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) took surgeon Susan Lim to task in 2010 over inflated bills. Now, the SMC itself has been found to have overcharged the doctor for the legal proceedings that followed.

The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) and surgeon Susan Lim remain entangled in a dispute, almost five years after it acted against her for overcharging a patient from Brunei.
This time, the disagreement is over how much she should pay the council in costs for the long drawn-out case, which she lost.
The SMC first took action in January 2010, accusing her of overcharging by seeking $24.8 million for treating a member of the Brunei royal family over seven months in 2007. Found guilty in 2012, Dr Lim was fined $10,000, suspended from practice for three years and ordered to pay the SMC’s legal costs.
Now the SMC has been told by the High Court that it asked for too much from Dr Lim in two bills totalling over $2 million. These covered costs for a first hearing, which ended with the committee disqualifying itself after 11 days; a second hearing over five days; and the three times Dr Lim took SMC to court along the way.
Dr Lim’s husband, Mr Deepak Sharma, contested SMC’s legal bills. After separate proceedings before a High Court assistant registrar, both bills were slashed.
Last year, the first bill was cut from $1 million to $370,000; last month, the second was reduced from $1.3 million to $317,000.
Assistant Registrar Jacqueline Lee scrutinised the second bill before giving her reasons why the SMC was asking for too much.
The SMC is appealing the latest decision.

CLAIM NO. 1 LEGAL FEES
$900,000
The amount the SMC claimed as payment to law firm WongPartnership on behalf of lawyers Alvin Yeo, Melanie Ho and Lim Wei Lee
CUT TO $180,000
The judgment: A doctor found guilty in an SMC disciplinary hearing can only be charged for the services of one lawyer – unless the proceedings are so complex they call for another lawyer who must be certified by SMC’s disciplinary committee.
This certification was not done in this case.
Assistant Registrar Jacqueline Lee decided what was claimed for both Ms Melanie Ho and Ms Lim Wei Lee should not be allowed, and the $514,000 claimed for Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo’s work was too high.
The SMC had originally presented a bill of $1,229,804 for 1,900 hours spent by its lawyers on the case, claiming “out of abundance of caution, the amount stated is a reduced figure of the time spent”. The Law Society also has verified that the SMC paid a higher amount to Wong Partnership than it is claiming from Dr Lim.
Ms Lee said that SMC’s statement meant little since she had no information on how much time had actually been spent, and criticised the council for not detailing what the lawyers had spent their time on.
She also pointed out that “collectively, Mr Yeo, Ms Ho and Ms Lim allegedly spent 718 hours” – much less than the 1,900 hours claimed for.
Ms Lee added that if the 1,900 hours included two replacement lawyers catching up on what had happened before they joined the team, “it would be unreasonable to make the respondent (Dr Lim) bear the costs arising from any such inefficiency in the conduct of the prosecution”.
________________________________________
CLAIM NO. 2 FEES FOR LEGAL ASSESSOR
$235,000
The amount claimed to pay law firm Shook Lin & Bok for the services of legal assessor V. Coomaraswamy during the second disciplinary hearing
CUT TO $22,000
The judgment: A legal assessor attends SMC disciplinary hearings only to advise on questions of law, and to alert the committee of any irregularity in the proceedings. He may also help the committee draft its decision.
For the work of the legal assessor in the first hearing, which totalled 65 hours, law firm Wee Swee Teow charged $49,200 for Senior Counsel Giam Chin Toon’s time. This was reduced to $45,000. In the second hearing, Shook Lin & Bok charged $235,000 for then Senior Counsel V. Coomaraswamy’s 224 hours of work done between August 2010 and July 2012. Ms Lee noted the start date for the bill was before the second disciplinary committee had even been formed.
Questioning the number of hours of work by Mr Coomaraswamy, she said: “Even rounding up all the hours taken for the nine pre-inquiry conferences and the five inquiry hearings, they should add up to no more than 32 hours. This only leaves one to wonder how the second legal assessor spent the balance of approximately 180 hours.”
Ms Lee made it clear she believed the lawyer, who is now a Supreme Court judge, had actually spent 224 hours on the case, possibly on internal meetings. But without details, she said, she was unable to decide if any of them could be considered part of required work.
She said it was not fair for Dr Lim to be charged $1,050 per hour for Mr Coomaraswamy’s work, when the previous legal assessor had charged $570 per hour – as it was not her fault a second committee had to be set up to hear her case.
________________________________________
CLAIM NO. 3 FEES FOR EXPERT WITNESS
$42,000
The claim for expert witness Dr Hong Ga Sze, a general surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre
CUT TO $5,000
The judgment: Dr Hong Ga Sze, a general surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, provided a written opinion and gave testimony for one day, during the first disciplinary committee’s hearing.
But his $14,000 bill for a day’s expert evidence was very high, particularly since it “did not involve complex, technical or medical expertise”, said Ms Lim.
The testimony needed from Dr Hong and another expert witness, consultant medical oncologist Dr Tan Yew Oo, was on what was considered reasonable for a doctor to charge.
Dr Tan, the more senior medical expert, had charged $700 for each hour he was on the stand, and $200 every hour for time spent waiting.
His bill of $12,145 was reduced to $9,000.
“Dr Hong’s fees of $6,000 just for ‘standing by’ – waiting to take the witness stand – are also exorbitant,” said Ms Lee.
She also criticised his separate $6,000 bill for preparing the trial report, for which Dr Tan had charged only $1,000.
She took issue as well with another $14,000 charged by Dr Hong, an SMC council member since last year, for his trial preparation which stretched from March 2009 to February 2010.
The period started “even before the notice of inquiry was issued” to Dr Lim, she noted.
________________________________________
CLAIM NO. 4 HIGH COURT APPEAL
$150,000
The Council’s claim for the High Court appeal against the decision of the second disciplinary committee decision
CUT TO $70,000
The judgment: The council had billed Dr Lim $150,000 for the work it had to do on the case, including “work done to address the respondent’s irrelevant arguments”.
But Ms Lee cut this by more than half.
Separately, the SMC also charged $6 for every ring binder used to collate documents.
In previous SMC hearings, binders were charged at either $2.50 or $3.
As a result, the roughly $4,000 the SMC had billed for close to 700 ring binders was also slashed to less than half.

What it should have been
The Straits Times, 31 October 2014
SUNDAY’S report, “Exorbitant, unreasonable: High Court slashes SMC’s claims”, stated that the Law Society had verified that the Singapore Medical Council paid a higher amount to Wong Partnership than it was claiming from Dr Susan Lim. The society has clarified that it did not do so.

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