TL;DR – The tribunal report described her and Lee Hsien Yang as “deceitful” and “dishonest”, but all she wants to do are hairstyling and quilting.
Just who is Lim Suet Fern?
Lee Suet Fern is an accomplished lawyer and she founded Stamford Law Corporation in 2000 and it became one of the leading Singapore-based law firms at one time. The firm’s specialty was in mergers and acquisitions. Stamford Law merged with top US firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius to create Morgan Lewis Stamford in 2015.
But outside of the legal circuit, to the average Singaporeans, she might be better known as Lee Kuan Yew’s daughter-in-law, or Lee Hsien Yang’s wife. Or if you’re from from the academia, she’s the daughter of distinguished economist, Lim Chong Yah.
Born on 16 May 1958, Lim Suet Fern will turn 62 in May this year. She married the second son of our founding prime minister, Lee Hsien Yang, in 1981. They have three sons, Li Huanwu, Li Shengwu, Li Shaowu.
Lim Suet Fern recently came under fairly intense public scrutiny when she was found guilty of grossly improper professional conduct by a disciplinary tribunal in the preparation and execution of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s final will.
The disciplinary tribunal had released a strongly-worded 206-page report that described Lee Suet Fern and Lee Hsien Yang as “deceitful” and “dishonest”
In fact, the tribunal found that Mrs Lee’s misconduct was grave enough to strike her off the rolls as a lawyer.
These charges of professional misconduct against Lim were brought by The Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) after the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) made a complaint. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon had appointed the disciplinary tribunal to hear and investigate the matter back in February 2019.
The disciplinary tribunal found that together with her husband Lee Hsien Yang, Lim Suet Fern had made Lee Kuan Yew sign the will “urgently” without the presence or involvement of his usual lawyer, Ms Kwa Kim Li. A partner in the law firm Lee & Lee, Ms Kwa had prepared Senior Lee’s first to sixth wills.
According to a CNA article, Lim Suet Fern’s “conduct was in direct contravention of rules governing solicitors that expressly prohibits a lawyer from preparing a will when a family member of the lawyer is going to get a significant gift under the will.”
“She also misled her father-in-law on the terms of the last will that he was going to sign in 2013. His final will included a clause on the demolition of his house at 38 Oxley Road, which was included in previous wills, but removed subsequently.”
As said, the tribunal had used very strongly and quite damning words in describing Lim Suet Fern’s conduct. It called Mrs Lee a “deceitful witness, who tailored her evidence to portray herself as an innocent victim who had been maligned”, describing this as a facade. The tribunal further said,
“Before us, she lied or became evasive whenever she thought it was to her benefit to lie or evade.”
“Her husband’s conduct was equally deceitful.”
“He tried to hide how he and his wife had misled his own father, Mr Lee, on the last will. He had no qualms about making up evidence as he went along. We found him to be cynical about telling the truth.”
Facebook page, Singapore Matters, got hold of the full report and uploaded it in case you are interested to read the entire report.
You can read the lowdown of the matter in Today’s Explainer here, but meanwhile, suffice to know that she has been found guilty of professional misconduct and is at risk of having her name struck off the rolls as a lawyer.
Anyway, apparently her actions were serious and grave enough that the matter will be referred to the Court of Three Judges, the highest disciplinary body to deal with lawyers’ misconduct. If found guilty, Mrs Lee could face a fine, suspension or be disbarred.
The current status of this matter is that Lim Suet Fern has said she disagrees with the findings of the tribunal and will “fight this strongly” in open court. Let’s watch how the matter unfolds.
Meanwhile, let’s check out seven interesting things about this woman without a Facebook account.
1. Lim Chong Yah spilled the beans about his daughter Lim Suet Fern’s love story with Lee Hsien Yang
Lim Suet Fern’s father wrote this in his autobiography,
“Fern’s academic talents showed at an early age…[she] studied law at the University of Cambridge, completing her degree with a double first, and scooping up most of the prizes for law students.”
“It was in Cambridge that she was very thick with Lee Hsien Yang whom she came to know when they were both studying in Singapore’s National Junior College (NJC). Yang was a year her senior.”
“I was told during her final examination, he would queue up for her in the snow for the exam room to open, an episode that showed they were in a serious relationship.”
2. Lim Suet Fern’s education
Lim Suet Fern received her early education in Oxford, UK, where her father obtained his doctorate and in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, where he was a lecturer at the University of Malaya in Pantai Valley. She was educated in RGS (1971-1974). She was an ASEAN scholar at National Junior College (1975-1976). She graduated with a Double First Tripos in Law from Cambridge University in 1980.
3. Lim Suet Fern’s two main influences in her life
She recalled in the book, 100 Inspiring Rafflesians (1923-2003), of the two main influences in her life.
“My sense of motivation for the value of hard work and learning – a lof of that came from my father. The second phase came very much from RGS. That is why I’m such a staunch Rafflesian. RGS had a tremendous number of girls who were incredibly talented. There were girls who had no money to buy school uniforms. I then felt that I had no excuse not to excel in my studies for I did not have to worry if there was enough food at home. There was also a tremendous sisterhood which the girls share. That was an important part of the RGS spirit which I stil enjoy today.”
4. Lim Suet Fern was an all-rounder in her school days
“A brilliant student, she was also a First Class Girl Guide, debater, actress and orator in English and Malay. She was a member of the victorious National Junior College team which won the national televised debates.”
5. Lim Suet Fern said she’s an “obedient wife”
The disciplinary tribunal formed to investigate Lim’s professional conduct over the preparation of Lee Kuan Yew’s will said that the facts exposed an “unsavoury tale” of how Lim Suet Fern and her husband Lee Hsien Yang had persuaded Mr Lee, 90 and sickly with frequent visits to the hospitals then, to sign a new will without his usual lawyer to advise him.
The tribunal report revealed that Lim testified that she had followed her husband’s instructions to help the Senior Lee with his final wills as she was an “obedient wife”.
This is hardly surprising as she had said in a Straits Times interview back in 2010 that her primary role was always to be a good wife and a good mother, everything else is secondary, just hobbies.
6. What would Lim Suet Fern do if she wasn’t a lawyer?
In the same 2010 interview with the Straits Times, Lim had said that if she had not studied law, she would have seriously considered a career as a hairstylist. She had shared with the reporter that she is very good with hairstyling. Not only does she do her own hair, she even cuts her husband’s hair for him.
7. Lim Suet Fern’s also an award-winning quilter
Her husband Lee Hsien Yang let the cat of the bag when he posted on Facebook about his wife winning an award for her quilt at the 2019 Yokohama Quilt Festival.
I googled and found an earlier interview that AsiaOne had done with her back in 2014. She said despite her love for quilting, she rarely speaks about it to others.
“I generally do not tell anyone that I quilt. The person who finds out is naturally surprised.”
Looks like Lim Suet Fern has been multi-skilling even before SkillsFuture is a movement. Well, if she cannot be a lawyer no more because of her grossly improper professional conduct, she can go quilt or open up a hair salon, hurhur.
(Featured image via ST)