Speech by The Honourable the Chief Justice at the launch of Legal Legacies: The Story of Singapore Law exhibition
The Honourable the Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,

1. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Singapore Academy of Law. Twenty years may appear long as future time, but it is not even an instant as past time. As someone once said, history never looks like history when you are living through it. When the original band of 10 judges, the Attorney General and 11 lawyers met at the former Senate Room on 19 January 1989 to inaugurate the business of the Academy, we had no expectation as to the kind of institution it would evolve into ten years into the future, not to say twenty years into the future. All we knew was that we had difficult work ahead of us. Today, we know how much we have achieved and where we are. We also have some idea as to where we should be going in the next ten or twenty years.

2. At the end of last year, we decided to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Academy without fanfare and in a cost effective way. We designed a diary for 2008 and distributed it to every member of the Academy as a memento. I did receive a few appreciative replies from those who were given diaries with their names embossed in copper on the covers. The staff of the Academy had made great efforts to select for inclusion in the diary, photographs of emblems, documents and artefacts relevant to our legal history to interest any lawyer with a sense of legal history. The diary contains a large number of quotations on justice, law and lawyers which, again, should interest any lawyer with a sense of justice, morality and civic responsibility.

3. I wonder how many of you have read the quotations. Anyhow, I also received an appreciative reply from the founder of the Academy who found the photos and quotes interesting. Here are two quotations which you might like: 
(1) Where there is hunger, law is not regarded and where law is not regarded, there is hunger.
[This sounds like a Chinese proverb, but apparently Benjamin Franklin said it].
(2) We are in bondage to the law so that we might be free.
[This sounds like the title of one of Denning’s book “Freedom Under the Law”, but apparently it was said by Cicero.]

4. We also decided to mount an exhibition of photographs, legal documents, books, newspaper cuttings, stamps, and any other artefacts relating to the law to showcase our legal heritage. We thought that it would be appropriate on our 20th anniversary to put together, for the benefit of our members and more importantly the public, a panorama of the development of the administration of justice and the practice of law over the last 180 years.

5. From a state of legal chaos in 1826 to a state of legal stability in 180 years may not seem to be much of an achievement, but it required the strong belief of an immigrant society in and the respect for the rule of law to make this possible. Raffles knew what was needed to make Singapore thrive: the opportunity to trade and work in a free port under an imperial legal order that could guarantee peace and security to all. So, today, we can count our blessings that in Singapore we have a peaceful and stable society under good governance, and where there is regard for the law and no hunger. This is actually a great achievement, given the conditions and environment in which Singapore have developed.

6. Many, if not all, of us have spent the best years of our lives in the service of the law. For them, this exhibition will be just a short walk down memory lane, a nostalgic travelogue of the many milestones in the development of our legal system and institutions and the practice of law since 1826. You will see many things in this exhibition you have never seen before, and that is because unless history is brought to the surface, it always lies buried. Some of the highlights include a manuscript judgment of Recorder Malkin, a court document from the Syonan years and an award‐winning collection of distinctive judicial and revenue stamps of the Straits Settlements.

7. For those who practised in the years when Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin used to hear all summonses in chambers, we have on exhibit a record book of his notes of arguments in cases he had presided in which some of you might have appeared as counsel. If there is a special request from any counsel to view this record book after this exhibition is over, the Academy would be happy to arrange for it.

8. This exhibition has taken the Academy many months to prepare with the assistance and collaboration of many people, including lawyers, law firms and various collectors of artefacts, documents and objects that are part of the social history of Singapore. We have a long list of contributors, and their names are acknowledged on the panel at the gallery area. To all of them, I must, on behalf of the Academy, express my grateful thanks. I would like to thank the following for their support and the loan of exhibits: Allen & Gledhill; the Barker family; Dr Chandra Mohan; Drew & Napier; Donaldson & Burkinshaw; Ms Elisabeth Eber; Mrs Jean Marshall; Mr John Koh; Heritage Conservation Centre; Law Society of Singapore; LexisNexis; National Library Board; National Archives; National Heritage Board; NUS Law Library; Rodyk & Davidson; Singapore Land Authority; Singapore Philatelic Museum; Supreme Court of Singapore and Wee Swee Teow & Co. In particular, I would also like to thank Mr Koh Seow Chuan for the many unusual items from his collection, including his prized fiscal stamps, and Mr John Koh for preparing the blueprint for the exhibition.

9. Some of you may remember the Academy’s first legal heritage exhibition held the City Hall Chamber in November 1995. It was a 4‐day event, and a modest affair compared to what has been assembled today. Today’s exhibition will be on display to the public for one month, after which it will be put on permanent display in the Subordinate Courts as a reminder litigants, lawyers and judges that we have a legal system and legal institutions that are worth preserving for future generations.

10. I am now pleased to officially launch this exhibition called “Legal Legacies: The Story of Singapore Law”.