Remarks by Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong at the LASCO Dinner 2012


Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences (LASCO)

2nd LASCO Award 2012
Dinner on 30 October 2012

Remarks by Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong

  1. It gives me great pleasure to be here tonight to attend the 2nd LASCO Award ceremony which is held once in two years to recognise the contributions of the members of the Criminal Bar to criminal justice in Singapore, and in particular their strong support of the Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences (“LASCO”).

  2. Tonight’s event is also a milestone in our journey to provide access to justice to those charged for capital offences, as it marks the 20th Anniversary of the LASCO scheme. As many of those present here may recall, the scheme was institutionalised in its current form in 1992. However, not many may know that the practice of assigning counsel to accused persons facing capital charges in Singapore dates back to pre-independence days. The first expression of such a need goes back to 6 June 1956, when the Minister of Labour and Welfare of the David Marshall Government, Mr Lim Yew Hock, informed the Legislative Assembly that “free legal representation is provided where necessary to persons charged with murder”.[1] In 1963, Mr K M Byrne, the then Minister for Law, stated in the Legislative Assembly that there was “in existence a scheme where lawyers are assigned to accused persons charged with capital offences”.[2] This scheme continued throughout Singapore’s progress to merger with the Federation of Malaya and independence in 1965.

  3. The origins of the LASCO can arguably be traced to a letter dated 20 November 1979 from David Marshall to the President of the Law Society, where he suggested that

    “in capital cases[,] there should be two Counsel assigned, one a recognised practitioner at the Criminal Bar, and one a Counsel of not more than five years’ practice at the Criminal Bar”.

    This suggestion, however, was only entrenched in 1992 to compensate, in some measure, for the abolition of the two-judge court for capital cases in favour of a one-judge court.

  4. We have come a long way since then. Starting with 96 LASCO counsel in 1992, we had 188 at the end of 2001, and 218 today, including 6 senior counsel. Last year, the LASCO Selection Panel was instituted to oversee the selection and appointment of LASCO counsel. We also increased the honorarium payable to counsel. The Law Society has also helpfully extended its research and paralegal support to LASCO counsel.

  5. This is where we are today. Next year, the members of LASCO will be called upon to assume equally great responsibilities in pleading for the lives of condemned prisoners under the proposed amendments to be made to the Criminal Procedure Code. To use an Americanism, these are awesome responsibilities. But, I am sure you will rise to the occasion and do your best on the available evidence.

  6. As this is my last formal speech to the members of the Bar as Chief Justice, I think it is fitting that I should speak on criminal justice. In 1996, I spoke in defence of our criminal justice system in my capacity as the Attorney General. I then said that the criminal process in Singapore had begun a new phase of development through judicial reconsideration and refinement of case law principles and the reinterpretation of statutory principles. It is a continuing process, as our societal values change in tandem with social changes that the young generation of better educated Singaporeans can see happening all over the world.

  7. However, there was one aspect of criminal justice that I did not address then, and that was access to justice for those who have been charged for criminal conduct. When it comes to access to justice, the critical consideration is fairness in the criminal process, and fairness demands that the accused facing a capital charge must be represented by counsel. You must also be aware that the practice of the courts has been that, even where an accused convicted of a capital offence has withdrawn his appeal, the appeal court would insist on reviewing the case. Parliament has now gone further by enacting a provision in the CPC to require the Court of Appeal to review a conviction for a capital offence, even where the convicted accused has not appealed.

  8. I think that we can all agree that the fairness of the criminal justice system of a country is the touchstone of its civilisation. Law and order is necessary for society to survive and progress. Criminals must be charged, tried and if convicted, punished, but the trial process must be fair. The work of LASCO members falls on the other side of the equation to ensure that there is fairness in the criminal process.

  9. It remains for me now to announce the winner of the 2nd LASCO Award. He conducted 6 LASCO cases during the qualifying period between 1 January 2010 and 30 June 2012. He was commended by the Judge for his professionalism in a Magistrate’s Appeal in providing the court with clear and concise submissions. He was considered for the inaugural LASCO Award, and has been a member of the Law Society’s Criminal Legal Aid Scheme for about 13 years.

  10. I congratulate the deserving winner. He is Mr Manoj Nandwani.


[1]Official Report of the debate of the Legislative Assembly of the Colony of Singapore, 26 June 1956.

[2]Official Report of the debate of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Singapore, 25 July 1963.