Something just caught my eye, something that wasn’t in the tribunal’s report. I found it in the Law Society’s closing submissions as well in the Defence’s submissions. It appeared that the Oxley Road house was discussed when the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew met his regular lawyer, Ms Kwa Kim Li, before that last will was executed. It was about the “de-gazetting of the house’’. It took up a full page of Ms Kwa’s summary of her discussions with the late Prime Minister on Dec 12.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t glean anything further because the Law Society’s lawyer immediately asked Mrs Lee Suet Fern, who was on the stand, about whether there was talk about the infamous “demolition clause’’, she said there wasn’t. This point was referred to in the defence’s submission as well : that Mr Lee and Ms Kwa had explicitly considered “de-gazetting’’ the property. Mrs Lee said during the tribunal hearing when her own lawyer questioned her that “de-gazetting meant its eventual demolition’’.
Nothing about this appeared in the tribunal’s report which could have had a bearing on whether the final will reflected the late Mr Lee’s true intentions. Or was that the point of having a tribunal hearing? The hearing was supposed to discuss the propriety of Mrs Lee’s role in the final will.
From a reading of the Law Society’s case, it seems that Mrs Lee should be damned whether she was acting as a daughter-in-law or as a lawyer. And whether Mr Lee was in full possession of his faculties at that time is also beside the point. Even if he was, she would be acting improperly.
If Mrs Lee was merely acting on her husband’s instructions to get the first will engrossed as the final will – or as an “obedient wife’’, she said – then she was taking instructions on behalf of a beneficiary of the will.
It didn’t matter if the late Mr Lee regarded her as a daughter-in-law or another lawyer. She shouldn’t have had a part to pay in the process. But the Law Society’s position was that Mr Lee treated his daughter-in-law as the stand-in solicitor. That was why he sent an extra note or codicil to her after the execution of the will for her to attach.
You could say that the late Mr Lee himself should have suggested that his family members not get involved and to use his regular lawyer. He had, after all, always been a great one for propriety. If the suggestion that he was too frail or feeble to see the implications, then the fact that he remembered the codicil – a gift of two carpets to his younger son – a few days later showed that he was lucid.
This instance, however, was used by the Law Society to show that the final will was not a reflection of his wishes – he had talked about the gift with Ms Kwa, besides equalising the shares among his three children. And that he treated Mrs Lee as his lawyer by informing her of it.
The Law Society was trying to turn every point into its favour. And the tribunal accepted it. Perusing the judgment, I am unable to find any instance of the tribunal agreeing with the defence on any point.
This begs the question: So what was it about de-gazetting the house that was discussed? This is biggest issue when discussion turns on whether the will was a true reflection of Mr Lee’s wishes. (Again, is that the point?)
After all, the reversion of shares was what he wanted, whether or not Mrs Lee knew about the first will or penultimate will. The tribunal noted the Law Society’s evidence that Dr Lee believed she had been “played out’’ of the extra share. But it didn’t say anything about her public denials later.
As for the lack of a gift-over clause, it doesn’t really affect Mr Lee since there is little chance of his children pre-deceasing him. He could have changed his will later if he wanted.
So the house, the subject of so much debate, is really the big deal when it comes to deciphering the late Mr Lee’s intention. Nothing about demolition was in the fifth and sixth wills. And if it is a fact that Mr Lee wanted to revert to the first will, is it possible that he didn’t realise it included the demolition clause? Or did he want this done because it did? After all, he read and initialled every page.
So, really, what would LKY say? Everyone’s trying to second-guess a dead man.
At the end of the day, it’s about whether Mrs Lee, a lawyer, acted improperly. The Law Society went into the nitty-gritties of what she said when and when and whether she contradicted herself, or lied, or was in cahoots with her husband or fabricated evidence. The tribunal punched more nails in the coffin.
I suppose there will be talk about the importance of upholding the standing of the legal profession. But to the layman, even if what she did was wrong and she should be punished in some way for this, would it have mattered to LKY?