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Address by Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong at the Singapore Academy of Law Appreciation Dinner 2008 and Conferment Ceremony for DPM Professor S Jayakumar

Minister Mentor,

DPM Professor Jayakumar,

Fellow members of the Singapore Academy of Law,

1. We have gathered here tonight on the 20th Anniversary of the Singapore Academy of Law for two purposes: the first is to pay tribute to and honour Deputy Prime Minister and Co-ordinating Minister for National Security, Professor S Jayakumar. We do this by conferring on him the title of Honorary Member for Life and Fellow for Life for his contributions to our legal system and to our nation. Professor Jayakumar’s most significant contributions are set out in the Conferment Citation which the Attorney General will read out.

2. The second is to honour in a different way certain members who have made key contributions in promoting the objectives of the Singapore Academy of Law. We do so by presenting to them a new award called the Singapore Academy of Law Awards. These awards will be given out periodically at intervals of not less than three years. We hope that these awards will spur more members to take pride in the work of the Academy in its singular role in the legal services sector in Singapore.

3. The SAL was established in November 1988 to, inter alia, promote the advancement and dissemination of the laws and the legal system and research and scholarship, and just as important, to promote good relations and social interaction amongst the legal community in Singapore. The first Senate meeting was held on 19 January 1989, with the late CJ Wee Chong Jin as President, to elect its nominated members and to appoint the various Committees to carry out the functions of the SAL. Altogether, eight Committees were appointed. None of the Committees had full-time staff. Nevertheless, it had a promising start. The first issue of the Singapore Academy of Law Journal was published in December 1989 and distributed free of charge to all members.

4. The core Committees of the Senate, such as the Executive Committee, the Publications Committee and the Legal Education and Studies Committee continue to function today. The others became defunct. By 1995, the SAL had developed to a stage where it had the self-confidence to seek legislation to take on two more statutory functions, viz.,

(i) to undertake activities and projects; and

(ii) to provide consultancy and other services, relating generally to the development of our laws and legal system, but in particular information technology as supporting facilities.

5. These legislative changes widened SAL’s statutory remit substantially and SAL had to move quickly to execute the new functions. New committees were formed in response to the legal and technological developments taking place in the world and in Singapore. We had to keep up with, and sometimes stay ahead of, domestic and global developments that were impacting the growth, efficiency and quality of legal services in Singapore.

6. Today, the SAL has grown into an organisation that is involved in many important areas of the legal sector. The various milestones in the growth of the SAL are highlighted in the programme brochure for tonight’s dinner. Its activities are currently organised into three legal clusters, the Legal Knowledge Cluster, the Legal Technology Cluster, and the Legal Industry Cluster, each with its own committees. Some of our current programmes cut across all clusters, for example, Singapore Law Watch, which is our latest web-based facility to disseminate Singapore law, in particular our judgments and legislation. This website has been well received, and is getting on the average about 5,000 6,000 visitors a month and about 50,000 page views from readers in China, Hong Kong,
Indonesia, Malaysia, UK and USA, and of course Singapore.

7. The SAL has come a long way since it was founded. And so it should, given the strong and enduring support from the Government and the legal community throughout this period. The SAL has played a significant role in enhancing our legal system and meeting the needs for continuing efficiency and quality in our legal services. Of course, all that the SAL has done and will do to discharge its functions will not be possible without two indispensable elements. The first is the spirit of cooperation from those members who have answered our annual calls to serve in the various Committees of the Academy. From day one, we had to rely on volunteers to run all the Committees, and to my knowledge no member has refused to serve when called upon to do so. On behalf of the SAL, I express my deepest gratitude to them for giving their time freely and generously in enabling the SAL to implement its many educational and training programmes throughout the year, year after year for the last 20 years. This dinner is an inadequate recompense for their contributions that made the SAL what it is today. Neither is the SAL Award adequate recompense for those who have been selected to receive the SAL Awards for their magnificent contributions. I hope that they will accept the SAL Awards in the spirit with which they have been offered.

8. The other indispensable element is funding. The Government has been very generous to the Academy in this respect. The SAL was given not only free premises, but a restaurant and an annual grant of $250,000 for the first two years of its founding. The amount of membership subscriptions that the SAL could prudently impose was limited as most of the members also had to pay other dues to the Law Society. With the new functions it acquired in 1995, the Academy needed more funding. In 1996, as a result of Prof Jayakumar’s strong support for my proposal that the SAL be given a stakeholding function, the Academy had a new stream of income, which together with other income streams, put the Academy on a sound financial footing to enhance and expand its activities. On behalf of the Academy, I would like to thank Prof Jayakumar for his support.

Looking ahead
9. The SAL has raised the quality of our legal services and also the international profile of our legal system through its many conferences, forums, seminars and workshops, many of which were conducted by prominent legal scholars from Cambridge, Oxford and other Commonwealth law schools. It has also earned itself an international reputation for its law search engine, LawNet, and its mediation expertise. We have other goals to achieve and many projects are in the pipeline.

10. Looking ahead, I am confident that with excellence as our credo, and the spirit of co-operation and volunteerism among our members, the SAL will be able to sustain its role in meeting the challenges and demands of Singapore’s changing social and economic landscape. In this regard, the SAL will continue to draw on the rich diversity of legal talent and other resources available to it to realize the goal of making Singapore a legal services hub.

Thank you.

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