Magna Carta and Us

Upholding the Rule of Law

Singapore’s first law school was established in 1956 as the Department of Law of what was then the University of Malaya. The pioneer class of law students graduated in 1961.

Singapore’s legal fraternity has played an important part in upholding the rule of law and contributing to the wider society. The legal fraternity encompasses judges, lawyers, legal officers, legal academics, general counsel, and many others who apply their legal skills and knowledge for the betterment of Singapore.

In this section, we celebrate international recognition of how the rule of law is steadfastly upheld in Singapore. We also present a collage of notable “firsts”.

Legal Education

S’pore’s 1st law class 50 years on The Sunday Times, 23 January 2011, Home, page 13

The Sunday Times, 23 January 2011, Home, page 13.

Source: The Sunday Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reprinted with permission.

“If Sheridan had not started classes in 1957, all of us might not be here now … all of us have lived and worked through the most turbulent, dynamic and stable phases of Singapore history …”

Former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong “S’pore’s 1st law class 50 years on” in The Sunday Times, 23 January 2011, Home, page 13

The Judiciary

Under Article 93 of the Singapore Constitution, judicial power in Singapore is vested in the Supreme Court and in such subordinate courts as may be provided for by any written law for the time being in force.

The Honourable the Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon is the head of the Judiciary.

In 1979, the Singapore Constitution was amended to create the position of Judicial Commissioners. A Judicial Commissioner has the powers of a High Court Judge and is appointed for a specific period determined by the President.

Opening of the Legal Year on 5 January 2015

Opening of the Legal Year 2015
5 January 2015

Front row, left to right:
Chan Seng Onn J, Tay Yong Kwang J, Belinda Ang J, Judith Prakash J, Chao Hick Tin JA, Sundaresh Menon CJ, Andrew Phang JA, Choo Han Teck J, Woo Bih Li J, Lee Seiu Kin J, Quentin Loh J

Back row, left to right:
Debbie Ong JC, Valerie Thean JC, George Wei JC, Vinodh Coomaraswamy J, Steven Chong J, Tan Siong Thye J, Edmund Leow JC, See Kee Oon JC, Hoo Sheau Peng JC, Aedit Abdullah JC

Milestones for the Judiciary

The First batch of Senior Counsels

  • The late Tan Boon Teik
  • Koh Eng Tian
  • Senior Judge Chan Sek Keong
  • Joseph Grimberg
  • The late Kasinather Saunthara Rajah (K S Rajah)
  • Michael Sydney Hwang
  • Harry Elias
  • Giam Chin Toon
  • Michael Khoo Kah Lip
  • Tan Kok Quan
  • Wong Meng Meng
  • Justice Woo Bih Li
  • Attorney-General Vijaya Kumar Rajah (V. K. Rajah)
  • Davinder Singh
  • Kenneth Michael Tan Wee Kheng

The Senior Counsel (SC) scheme was started in 1997. A total of 75 individuals have been appointed as Senior Counsel as at February 2015.

In the words of former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong:

“It was extremely important for Singapore to put in place a formal scheme whereby our best advocates would be accorded due recognition by the Judiciary for their legal expertise and advocacy skills … Such a public recognition would also serve as an incentive for advocates to improve and enhance their legal expertise and advocacy skills in order to attain that status.”

Image of Senior Counsel certificate. Individuals appointed as SC are announced on the occasion of the Opening of the Legal Year in January annually.

Former Solicitor-General Koh Eng Tian and the late Attorney-General Tan Boon Teik were statutorily appointed as the first Senior Counsels in 1989. Former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong was statutorily appointed as Senior Counsel in 1996, while the pioneer batch of Senior Counsels from the private sector was appointed in 1997.

International Recognition

Today, Singapore is widely recognised as an international centre for the provision of legal services, with a well-developed and business-friendly legal system based on the rule of law. Public confidence in the administration of justice is also ranked among the highest in the world.

The World Bank’s Doing Business 2015 report attributed Singapore’s No. 1 ranking to its high-quality judicial process:

“Efficient dispute resolution is paired with good institutions (such as specialised courts), effective case management and sophisticated court automation tools.”