– Former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong spent more than 50 years in the law in various roles as an outstanding lawyer in private practice, then as a Judge, Attorney-General and finally, head of Singapore’s judiciary. This evening, the Singapore Academy of Law (“SAL”), bestowed on him its highest honours.
The Singapore Academy of Law was formed in 1988 to advance and promote the practice of law in Singapore. In the 25 years of the Academy’s history, Mr Chan is only the sixth person to receive the title of Honorary Member for Life and Fellow for Life. This title is an honour bestowed by the Senate of the Academy on distinguished members in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the legal and judicial system, and to the stature of the legal profession in Singapore.
The other five persons who have been conferred the title are Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 1990, Former Chief Justice Dr Wee Chong Jin and Dr David Marshall in 1991, Former Chief Justice Mr Yong Pung How in 2007 and Professor S. Jayakumar in 2008.
The ceremony to confer the title on Mr Chan Sek Keong was held tonight at St Regis Singapore and witnessed by more than 250 leading members of the legal fraternity and members of the Academy.
Mr Chan graduated in 1961 and was among the first batch of law students from the University of Malaya. For 25 years – from 1962 to 1986, he practised as a litigation lawyer, a conveyancer, a solicitor and a corporate lawyer. His most important accomplishment as a corporate lawyer was to draft, on the spot, the Lifeboat Agreement which played a crucial role in averting a major crisis in the securities market and paved the way for its rehabilitation and prosperity.
He began his public career in 1986 when he was appointed Singapore’s first Judicial Commissioner. Two years later, he was elevated to the Bench and became a Judge of the Supreme Court. In 1992, he was appointed Attorney-General, a capacity in which he would serve for 14 years. Under his leadership, the Chambers grew from a modest and relatively small outfit into a large and modern organisation equipped to handle a whole range of complex, legal issues.
Mr Chan was also behind key statutory enactments that have had a decisive impact on the law. He was instrumental in advising the Government to pass the Application of English Law Act which paved the way for the development of a legal system suited to Singapore’s social, economic and political circumstances.
As Attorney-General, Mr Chan was amongst the first group of lawyers to be appointed Senior Counsel. He would exercise his advocacy skills by successfully arguing the first and only constitutional reference case before a special Constitutional Tribunal, and also in leading the Singapore legal team in the Pedra Branca case before the International Court of Justice.
Mr Chan was appointed Chief Justice in 2006 and it was noted in the Citation that it was in this role that he made the greatest impact on our legal system. Mr Chan displayed exemplary judicial temperament and his learning was made manifest in the volume and quality of judgments that he wrote. The Supreme Court flourished under Chief Justice Chan’s leadership and its jurisprudence took on a distinctly Singaporean character.
The Academy also celebrated its 25th anniversary tonight by honouring those who have contributed to its work. The Singapore Academy of Law Awards was presented to nine individuals.
Mr Chow Kok Fong, Professor Ng-Loy Wee Loon and Assistant Professor Goh Yihan received the Singapore Law Merit Award 2013 for their contributions to the development of Singapore Law. The SAL Merit Awards 2013 were given to Solicitor-General Mrs Koh Juat Jong, SC, Associate Professor Eleanor Wong, Mr Francis Xavier, SC, Associate Professor Debbie Ong, Mr Cavinder Bull, SC and Mr Yeong Zee Kin for their service in promoting and advancing the objectives of the Academy.
Chief Justice Menon also launched the first audio book by Academy Publishing. Legal Tenor: Voices from Singapore’s Legal History (1930 – 1959) is the first of its kind in Singapore. It features audio recordings of 15 of Singapore’s earliest lawyers including David Marshall, Wee Chong Jin, J B Jeyeretnam, Joseph Grimberg, Howard Cashin and former judges, Choor Singh, F A Chua and Abdul Wahab Ghows as they recollected their lives and experiences in the practice of law in the decades leading up to 1959.
CJ Menon said that many had known these giants who were the pioneering generation of Singapore’s legal fraternity and the audio book will give readers the opportunity to actually hear them. “Their voices evoke a real sense of our historical past and of an era when Singapore transitioned from colonial rule to self-governance,” said CJ Menon.
The book is curated by Ms Eleanor Wong using oral history interviews collected by the National Archives of Singapore and the SAL’s oral history project. The e-book will be available from iTunes at US$19.99 from Monday 4 November 2013. A print version priced at $64.20 will be available from January 2014.
The Singapore Academy of Law (the “Academy”) is the umbrella body of the legal community in Singapore and has close to 10,000 members.
The work of the Academy is focused on three key areas: supporting the growth and development of the Legal Industry; building up the intellectual capital of the legal profession by enhancing Legal Knowledge; and improving the efficiency of legal practice through Legal Technology.
Besides its role as the official law reporting agency in Singapore, the Academy’s other functions include providing continuing legal education for its members, publishing legal literature, promoting legal research and legal studies, the reform and development of the law and alternative dispute resolution.