Medical disciplinary cases where courts reduced legal costs to be paid by losing parties

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Health (a) of all the unsuccessful legal challenges by medical doctors to disciplinary committee proceedings brought against them by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) in the past three years, how many of such cases have had their legal costs that the losing parties are ordered to pay reduced following the court’s taxation of the bill of costs; (b) what has been the total quantum of costs taxed down; and (c) whether these have resulted in SMC paying the full quantum of costs that have been taxed down.

Parliamentary Question on 4 November 2014

MEDICAL DISCIPLINARY CASES WHERE COURTS REDUCED LEGAL COSTS TO BE PAID BY LOSING PARTIES

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Health (a) of all the unsuccessful legal challenges by medical doctors to disciplinary committee proceedings brought against them by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) in the past three years, how many of such cases have had their legal costs that the losing parties are ordered to pay reduced following the court’s taxation of the bill of costs; (b) what has been the total quantum of costs taxed down; and (c) whether these have resulted in SMC paying the full quantum of costs that have been taxed down.

Mr Gan Kim Yong: For the 44 SMC disciplinary proceedings that concluded between 2011 and 2013, taxation has been completed for seven cases, of which six had a proportion of the bill reduced after taxation. In these cases, between 37% to 78% of the costs were recovered after taxation and the cumulative amount that was taxed down amounted to about $926,000. The remaining bill was eventually undisputed. These taxation cases do not include cases which are pending cost negotiations and outcomes of appeals. In each of the cases taxed, SMC paid the legal fees that were incurred.

Taxation is a procedure that determines the proportion of the costs of the winning party that the losing party is made to bear when the costs are disputed. It must not be confused with whether the legal fees incurred were reasonable, and as the Law Society explained, the taxation framework is such that there is usually a considerable difference between what a losing party eventually pays and the costs incurred by the winning party in the disciplinary proceedings. For that reason, most cases that undergo taxation would result in the winning party not being able to recover a proportion of the costs incurred.

Invariably, the legal expertise required and the costs of the disciplinary process increase with the complexity of the cases. SMC must carry out its public duty to ensure that patients’ interests are protected. If it fails to pursue such cases due to 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. SMC will continue to ensure that the legal fees of the law firms engaged are reasonable and commensurate with the work done.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.