Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Book launched in tribute of retiring Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong

By S. Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 5 Nov 2012

Singapore's judicial and legal fraternities have paid tribute to retiring Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong who has been described by his successor, Judge of Appeal Sundaresh Menon, as the "dominant Singapore lawyer of this era".

And as a tribute to Chief Justice Chan, the Singapore Academy of Law has published a book "The Law in His Hands - A Tribute to Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong".

Chief Justice Chan retires on Tuesday at age 75, after having served two terms as Singapore's third Chief Justice from 2006 to 2012.

"In the life of an individual there must be many great days in his or her life. Today is one of those great days for me. Another great day for me anyway was when I was born. And 75 years later I am here with all my family, good friends and classmates from law school. One cannot ask for a more better send off," he said.

The book, which was launched on Monday by Justice Menon, is a compilation of CJ Chan's speeches, interviews and a collection of essays written by 11 senior lawyers and legal scholars.

Speaking at the event, Justice Menon described CJ Chan as a world-class jurist, with a clear and principled judicial philosophy and an unmatched grasp of the foundational principles that underlie the law.

He said this enabled CJ Chan to almost always get it right before even looking at the case authorities.

Justice Menon said, "We know him as a lawyer with a peerless love and devotion to the law. If law is the foundation of society and judges are its servants, then we know that the Chief is among its most ardent and loyal servants, passionately committed to doing justice in accordance with the law and seeking, like Dworkin's Hercules, to always get it right. I know that history will vindicate these assessments; but more than that, with the benefit of time, I believe history will judge the Chief as the greatest jurist this country has ever produced. And in time, we will each fully realise just how privileged we have been to have shared at least some part of that ride with him."

As a private practitioner, CJ Chan is best remembered as the lawyer who drafted the lifeboat fund arrangements that helped to stabilise Singapore's financial sector after the collapse of Pan-El in 1985.

During his term as Attorney-General, CJ Chan was instrumental in developing the Attorney-General's Chambers from a small outfit to a large modern organisation.

Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said: "Great brilliant legal mind, at the same time tremendous humility, very approachable and excellent judicial temperament. When he came into the Bench and he has left his mark on his legal history and landscape, the bar profession loved him and will continue to love him.

"The next Chief Justice, Mr Menon, comes with a brilliant career track record and he has a lot of ideas which he has started as Attorney General, as a Judge, you see it in the judgements. And I think he will make a big difference in the way the legal service moves and also through his judgements, and also his position as Chief Justice we can expect our judiciary's position as a world class institution further cemented."

And as Chief Justice, CJ Chan brought a new style to the Bench.

Justice Menon said: "The Chief brought his own style to his new calling. It has been a style that rests not only on a profound knowledge of the law, but equally on a gentle and courteous demeanour on the Bench, a willingness to afford a litigant the time he or she feels is needed to make a point, an awareness of the pressures that counsel face and an overall judicial temperament that can only be described as superb."

Over the course of 12 years on the Bench in both the High Court and the Court of Appeal, CJ Chan issued nearly 380 written judgments.

Justice Sundaresh Menon, 50, becomes Singapore's fourth Chief Justice from Tuesday. Monday's event was attended by Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, Judges of the Supreme Court and members of the legal fraternity.

PM thanks CJ for contributions to public service

Tribute to retired Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong by Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam, in Parliament

Leaving behind a stronger legal legacy
Tomorrow, Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong retires after six years in office as Mr Sundaresh Menon becomes Singapore's fourth CJ. K.C. Vijayan assesses CJ Chan's term while two contributors look at the impact made by CJs over the years
The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2012

CHIEF Justice Chan Sek Keong retires tomorrow on his 75th birthday, completing a legal career that started 48 years ago as a lawyer, in the longest legal stint among Singapore's three chief justices since independence.

When he took office in 2006, he remarked on his "daunting responsibilities" of administering justice fairly and justly, and called for "a new mindset that can meet the challenges of sustaining an efficient and fair justice system that is sensitive to the needs of a multiracial and multi-religious society".

CJ Chan said he was motivated to leave his successor a legacy "better than the one" he inherited, and the addition of new judges at the time - like then Justice Lee Seiu Kin and then Judicial Commissioner Sundaresh Menon - held him in good stead. They brought with them new ideas and different perspectives "on the exercise of judicial power in the administration of justice".

The court landscape today speaks for itself. CJ Chan has received accolades for his role in the Pedra Branca dispute before the International Court of Justice, for strengthening ties between the Bar and the Bench, and for his judgments in diverse legal areas, such as property, constitutional and criminal law.

Lawyers point to the litany of judgments over the years that attest to the CJ's fine legal mind.

Lawyer Adrian Tan from Drew & Napier praised the CJ's ruling in the case of Mr Peter Madhavan last July, as it clarified the liabilities of independent directors. The conviction of the former board member of air cargo firm Airocean was quashed by CJ Chan on appeal. In 2011, a district court had sentenced Mr Madhavan to four months' jail and fined him $120,000.

The 2008 dispute involving a bank which sought to wind up Jurong Shipyard over an alleged US$50 million (S$61 million) claim was another landmark case, said retired High Court judge G.P. Selvam. CJ Chan's court clarified the circumstances in which a petition to wind up a company could be justified. The case - pitting legal heavyweights Davinder Singh and Mr Menon, then in private practice, against each other - was settled in favour of the shipyard. The court made clear it retained the discretion not to wind up a company even though it was unable to pay its debts.

Also in 2008, in a third memorable case involving judicial review, the appeals court presided over by CJ Chan overturned a High Court decision and ruled that the Commissioner of Labour was liable to pay a painter compensation for injuries suffered in a workshop fire. The court rejected the defence that the worker, Mr Pang Cheng Suan, had filed a late compensation claim. CJ Chan made it clear the law protected workers like Mr Pang.

Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh and senior lawyer T.P.B. Menon, both former law school classmates, penned a tribute that said CJ Chan's profound knowledge of the law "is evident in all his written judgments which are a joy to read. They are always based on sound legal reasoning".

"It would be true to say that there are few areas of the law which he did not touch and little that he touched which he did not adorn," they added. "He leaves a substantial legacy of world-class judgments which has enriched our jurisprudence."

Among the CJ's achievements was becoming the first Asian to be conferred the International Jurists Award in 2009 by the International Council of Jurists for his outstanding contributions, and being made an honorary "bencher", or senior member, of Lincoln's Inn the previous year - the first Singaporean to be so honoured. Queen's Counsel Stuart Isaacs described CJ Chan as being "very much a lawyers' lawyer, who, through his professional and personal qualities, greatly enhanced the reputation overseas of the Singapore judiciary while in office", making Singapore well suited to its growing role "as a regional centre for the practice of international commercial law".

National University of Singapore law professor and Senior Counsel Jeffrey Pinsler, who CJ Chan commissioned to write the book, Ethics And Professional Responsibility, spoke glowingly about the CJ's role in raising awareness of legal ethics. This was reflected by the Law Society's becoming more responsive to maintaining professional standards, the increased teaching of ethics in universities, more literature and professional programmes related to ethics, and a revitalised focus on pro bono work to widen public access to justice.

Prof Pinsler said CJ Chan's "most important contribution" has been his impact on young lawyers, imparting to them "his own moral strength and an irresistible earnestness for rectitude and integrity in the practice of the law".

The CJ's interest in small firms, and his support for the setting up of reference websites like the Singapore Law Watch by the Singapore Academy of Law, was praised by Mr Mark Goh, a former chairman of the Law Society's small firms committee. He said: "These provided valuable help for small law firms in terms of updated knowledge management as such firms, unlike big firms, are unlikely to be able to afford their own libraries."

Others said CJ Chan's greatest contribution was to bridge the gap between the Bench and the Bar, which had widened before he took office. He recognised the Bar as a partner to the judiciary in the administration of justice.

Law Society president Wong Meng Meng said the CJ was "extremely approachable and supportive" during his term as president.

He said: "In particular, he has been very supportive of the Law Society's efforts in pro bono, and the result is a close partnership between the society and the Subordinate Courts in this area."

CJ Chan's approachability "percolated downwards and, as a result, it has also been easy to speak to all levels of the judiciary, including the registry", he added.

When he took office, CJ Chan paid tribute to his predecessor, Mr Yong Pung How, who was in office for 16 years, pointing out that "CJ Yong's achievements in the administration of justice are unique and not capable of emulation". Six years on, the same could be said of CJ Chan's achievements.

A court for the next decade
By Goh Yihan and Paul Tan, Published The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2012

TOMORROW marks the appointment of Mr Sundaresh Menon as Singapore's fourth post-independence Chief Justice.

His appointment has drawn accolades. At the same time, the truth is that every new appointment of a CJ carries with it an element of uncertainty: How will the appointment influence the development of the legal system?

Singapore's legal system after independence has developed in different directions as distinct challenges confront the judiciary at different times. Each CJ has had to respond to these challenges and, in the process, led a Court of Appeal with its own character. One common thread, however, has been the continued development and refinement of Singapore law and its institutions.

The first CJ in independent Singapore, Mr Wee Chong Jin, presiding during a period of a very different social, economic and political climate to today's prosperous and stable Singapore, faced the challenge of an embryonic Singapore legal system.

Possibly his most visible contribution to the rule of law was his presidency of the Constitutional Commission that contributed to the formulation of Singapore's Constitution. Equally, in other areas of law, CJ Wee's Court of Appeal had to venture where no Singapore court had gone. In the process, he has left an indelible imprint on Singapore law.

The second CJ, Mr Yong Pung How, embraced technology and case management systems to clear a backlog of cases that had become an issue as the legal system grew in size and sophistication. CJ Yong also instituted reforms to attract talent to the Legal Service and judiciary. More significantly, he presided during a period that saw a series of legislative reforms that encouraged the growth of local jurisprudence, including the passing of the Application of English Law Act and the abolition of Privy Council appeals.

As a result, Singapore courts became a model for efficiency, and judgments reflected an increased independence from foreign cases. The growth of Singapore law, as well as the sophistication of such, were both evident.

With efficiency ensured, the third CJ, Mr Chan Sek Keong, set out to further enhance the administration of justice. In one of his first speeches as CJ, he said that efficiency "should not be pursued to the point where it starts to yield diminishing returns in the dispensation of justice".

His Court of Appeal undertook extensive development of local law in both the commercial and public domains. By the end of his tenure, CJ Chan was widely acknowledged as one who accorded respect and understanding to lawyers and litigants alike, with an especial heart on the justice of the case.

Significantly, among his many initiatives, CJ Chan issued a Practice Direction that required lawyers to cite Singapore cases first, where available. He also encouraged local academics to write on Singapore law. Both these measures, along with his court's decisions, have helped Singapore law mature.

So what can we expect from CJ Menon's Court of Appeal?

Indications are that this will be a very special apex court.

For one thing, CJ Menon is being appointed at the relatively young age of 50. He will have the security of tenure for at least the next 15 years to forge jurisprudential and institutional developments.

CJ Menon will have the benefit of two other equally youthful appointments in Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and V.K. Rajah. This potentially means a permanent court for the next decade - a first in our legal history.

CJ Menon will also have the insight of the Court of Appeal's vice-president, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, who, remarkably, will now have served with all four post-independence CJs.

JA Chao's experience will be invaluable as CJ Menon's appointment comes at a time of serious efforts not only to develop Singapore law, but also to promote Singapore as a centre for global dispute resolution and the use of its law in such disputes. In this respect, Singapore now has a Court of Appeal whose four members come from professional backgrounds that will assist the realisation of this ambition.

In terms of his jurisprudence, CJ Menon's judgments as a judicial commissioner in 2006-2007 could be said to bear some hallmarks.

First, reflecting his practice as an international lawyer, his judgments often consider the decisions of foreign courts, including those as far as the United States and South Africa. However, they are not blindly followed. Instead, bold - yet pragmatic - jurisprudential thinking is evident.

In a dispute between Hong Leong Singapore Finance and United Overseas Bank, he fashioned a creative remedy that neither party had initially advanced. In another judgment, he gave much-needed clarity to the different tests for bias that were being applied by the Australian and English courts.

Such independent thought characterises CJ Menon's work. Some 12 years ago, he published a note questioning a decision of his predecessor, who was then a High Court judge. In his practice, he has taken on controversial cases, including challenging the Court of Appeal's power to reconsider its previous decision.

Second, it appears that CJ Menon believes in the virtues of judicial economy or modesty. In a few cases involving difficult legal issues, he expressly declined to lay down guidelines for future cases, preferring to resolve them case by case.

Whether this will change now that he is on the apex court, whose function is partly to guide the lower courts in subsequent cases, remains to be seen.

Third, when it comes to matters of criminal law, CJ Menon's judgments will likely walk the line between firmness and compassion. As a judicial commissioner, he declined to impose a deterrent sentence on a man who had stabbed his wife, in part due to a long history of him being abused by her.

His concern for procedural fairness is also exemplified by his involvement, as Attorney-General, in the recent revision to the criminal procedure code strengthening the rights of accused persons.

Singapore's legal landscape is undoubtedly set for exciting times.

The first writer is an assistant professor of law at the National University of Singapore. The second writer practises appellate advocacy and international arbitration at Rajah & Tann LLP.

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