Who is next Chief Justice of Singapore ?
I remember him well when he made a remarks about watching RA film in the year 1990. He said that he was puzzled that in Singapore a 18 years old man can shoulder the responsible of a patoon of soliders with rifles and live rounds but cannot watch RA film.
I certainly impressed by him.
Choosing S'pore's next Chief Justice
Only a handful of law professionals fit the strict criteria
Wednesday • March 22, 2006
Reverberating through the corridors of our legal fraternity, once again, is talk of Chief Justice Yong Pung How's retirement.
Fuelling the talk is the imminent expiry of the CJ's current two-year term. When asked in 2004 by Inter Se, a magazine published by the Singapore Academy of Law, what he would do were he to retire in two years' time, the CJ responded: "I have not thought much about it. I suppose when I retire, spending more time with my family will definitely be a priority.
"I came across an interesting article in The Straits Times recently — two professors in NUS claimed that playing mahjong regularly is a good way to keep dementia at bay. Perhaps I might even try that."
To be sure, the CJ himself has started a rigorous renewal process within the judiciary. He has left no stone unturned in wooing the best, the brightest and the youthful from the legal profession, including academics, to serve as judges. Take the appointments of Justices V K Rajah and Andrew Phang.
These judges have been put through a baptism of fire, with complex, high-profile and sensitive cases assigned to them. Their judgments lead to one logical conclusion: They can deal with a new generation of legal challenges and they are ready to lead our judiciary.
In their essay on the Singapore legal system, Assistant Professor Eugene Tan and Assistant Professor Gary Chan noted: "The great efficiency and strength of the Singapore judiciary has won her several accolades and a strong international reputation.
"Under the helm of the present Chief Justice Yong Pung How, strict case management and alternative dispute resolution methods have reduced drastically the backlog of cases which had plagued both the Supreme Court and Subordinate Courts in the recent past."
A new phase of growth has also been identified with the birth of the Singapore Law Committee, to encourage the use of Singapore law for international commercial transactions.
As to whether the CJ will retire next month or have his contract renewed, the answer is up in the air. Ultimately, the Prime Minister will offer his advice to the President on the appointment of a chief justice. If the President concurs, he makes the appointment.
The political leadership may well want the current CJ, 79, to stay on just a while longer, like Mr S R Nathan, 81, who is serving a second term as President. If it is decided that Chief Justice Yong should retire, his successor must be found first.
The procedure to search for a new Chief Justice is an extensive and politically sensitive one. Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew provided some insight into this process in his book, From Third World to First — The Singapore Story: 1965-2000. It involves searching for talent both within and outside the country, and intense consultations with the members of the judiciary.
Mr Lee said in his book that the Chief Justice gives "leadership to the judges and set(s) a high tone for the bar" and that "a wrong choice could mean years of public embarrassment and endless problems". He also feels strongly that it is important for the Chief Justice to appreciate Singapore's "multiracial society" and "the objectives of a good government", so as "to administer law to ensure order in society".
Considering Singapore's aspiration of promoting the use of Singapore law internationally, it may be further argued that Chief Justice Yong's successor must share the same international outlook and be a respected member of the international community.
There are very few law professionals who can fit the strict criteria. Singaporeans who currently qualify include Attorney-General Chan Sek Keong, Court of Appeal judge Chao Hick Tin, Ambassador-at-Large Professor Tommy Koh and Deputy Prime Minister Professor S Jayakumar.
Most readers are familiar with the credentials of Prof Koh and Prof Jayakumar. Justice Chao, 63, was appointed a judicial commissioner in 1987 and became a Judge of Appeal in 1999. He began his law career at the Attorney-General's Chambers and, like Prof Koh, has represented Singapore at seminal international law events. He is also the current president of the Asean Law Association.
The Attorney-General was, in 1961, among the first batch of 22 to graduate from the Law Faculty of the University of Malaya in Singapore.
Beginning his law career in private practice, in 1986 he became the first person appointed Judicial Commissioner. If he goes on to become Chief Justice, he will be the first Attorney-General of Singapore to do so.
So will Chief Justice Yong retire? If so, who will he recommend for appointment as the new Chief Justice? We should have answers to these questions in due course.
The writer, a corporate counsel, contributes in a personal capacity.