COLIN LIEW ON PROFESSIONAL PRIVILEGE AND PRO BONO WORK
The lawyer at Essex Court Chambers Duxton delves into legal professional privilege and explains why its prevalence in legal matters is set to grow.
The concept of legal privilege isn’t new, so it may surprise some that it hasn’t as yet been tackled in local literature. “That may be because it’s not something that has come up a lot in local cases,” shares Mr Colin Liew of Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice). But he adds that that is gradually changing, as awareness of the utility of privilege as a legal tool grows. However, greater awareness does not always weed out misconceptions, as he explains. “For instance, when is a communication privileged? Many think that it’s enough just to add the label “Privileged”, which isn’t the case.”
Mr Liew hopes to dispel such misconceptions with his forthcoming Legal Professional Privilege (Academy Publishing, $64.20), which has been described as the first serious study of the matter in Singapore. The title has been welcomed in the profession, with Judge of Appeal Steven Chong’s foreword reading, “I have no hesitation in commending this excellent book to all practitioners and in-house counsel. It should be the first port of call for research whenever the issue of legal professional privilege arises.” Reacting to the praise, the author quips, “I hope the book lives up to such a fulsome recommendation.”
The title could inspire more cases litigated on points of legal privilege, as lawyers and in-house counsel become more familiar and comfortable with the concept of privilege—a trend that Mr Liew welcomes. After all, he argued pro bono in the landmark Rahimah bte Mohd Salim v PP, which concerned the circumstances in which litigation privilege might be waived in criminal proceedings. “That case, alongside previous work with Justice Belinda Ang, really piqued my interest in the subject (of privilege),” he tells SAL. “Since then, I’ve also been instructed on several privilege-related cases, which has allowed me to become familiar with the leading authorities. I then decided to incorporate my research into a book-length treatment.”
THE PULL OF PRO BONO
We are chatting a few days after another landmark judgment was delivered involving a pro bono lawyer: the Parti Liyani case. I ask him about the draw of pro bono work, especially for commercial lawyers like himself, whose dealings more often involve multi-national corporations and cross-border disputes. “Pro bono work can sometimes raise important issues of law that nobody has confronted before,” he reflects. “It requires a fair amount of effort and resources but can be very rewarding when the case goes your client’s way.”
He remains deeply passionate about commercial disputes, citing its rigour. “Frequently, the key to persuading the judge or arbitrator of your client’s case has less to do with what the law says, but what is most consistent with commercial substance and reality. That, in turn, means a constant effort to understand how businesses trade and operate, to appreciate the sort of opportunities, risks and vulnerabilities that they are exposed to and which might ultimately culminate in a lawsuit.”
That Mr Liew enjoys rigour should come as no surprise. After all, he spent three years penning Legal Professional Privilege, finding pockets of time to write after putting his daughter to bed every night. He is candid about the struggle of writing it, noting that the process wasn’t always smooth-sailing. “I actually had to rewrite some parts after discovering that the law was not as straightforward as I had previously thought,” he admits. But now that the title is ready, he hopes that it will be a valuable companion to the wider profession.
As part of his efforts to grow the understanding of legal professional privilege, Mr Liew will moderate a webinar on the subject on 14 October. It will feature Mr Jern-Fei Ng QC of Essex Court Chambers and Ms Jelita Pandjaitan of Linklaters, who will contribute their insights on privilege issues across different jurisdictions, in international arbitration and regulatory investigations, while Mr Liew will discuss some perennial problems surrounding privilege, as well as recent cases on the topic. “I hope that the book and webinar will help lawyers and in-house counsel better understand the many ways in which a point concerning legal professional privilege could potentially arise, with possibly significant consequences,” he concludes.
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