The commemoration of the bicentennial is an occasion for reflection, even for those who are disinclined to frequent introspection. It presents each of us an opportunity to vicariously reflect on the past achievements and mistakes of our forefathers to discern learning points while we look ahead to new beginnings and fresh challenges. It is also timely to do a stock-take of our personal and professional lives and fill up our gratitude journals as we pass the mid-year mark of 2019.
Much of Singapore’s legal system has been influenced by our colonial heritage. At the same time, as Singapore’s status changed from a colony to a sovereign nation-state, Singapore’s legal landscape evolved accordingly. Many of our legal luminaries, who were faced with the seemingly insurmountable task of effecting our Constitution, played an instrumental role in reforming the judicial system and building up the legal profession and the legal system that we know today – all grounded strongly in the principles of the rule of law.
The concept of the rule of law has evolved over time to embody the values of communitarianism over individualist values, a concept that had to be applied bearing in mind the social, economic, and cultural particularities that prevailed in Singapore in its early years. Yet the rule of law has remained a bulwark for Singapore, with an emphasis placed on establishing a strong rule-of-law culture to attract foreign investment and business interests from MNCs, especially in Singapore’s early years post-independence. The Law Society shares an important piece of this history too, when it was established in 1967 (just two years following independence) under the Legal Profession Act; its mission was espoused as serving members of the legal profession, sustaining an independent bar which upholds the rule of law and ensuring access to justice.
The Law Society considers its role in upholding and affirming the rule of law as sacrosanct – almost 200 years on from when the concept of the rule of law first featured in Singapore’s legal history, when the Second Charter of Justice was granted by the British Crown in 1826 which created the beginnings of our judicial system and the application of English law. The second-half of the year will be a particularly momentous one for the Law Society as we mark the start of a new chapter in our history with the move to our new premises at Maxwell Chambers Suites come August 2019 – just like the symbolism behind the Bicentennial logo, this is the moment that marks both change and continuity.
With a physical move to new office premises and the enhancement of Secretariat’s capabilities, I am confident that the Law Society is, more than ever before, well-positioned and well-equipped to better serve the needs and concerns of our members. We aim to preserve continuity of the good work that we have done so far under past and present Council in terms of affirming our commitment and support to our members.
Indeed, as Lord Dyson noted in his book aptly titled Justice: Continuity and Change, continuity in law is important because it provides stability and a solid foundation on which people can base their behaviour. Caution is a trait that pervades the legal profession generally. Nevertheless, the profession is not spared from having to adapt to changes – be it changing laws or legislation to account for changing social dynamics and circumstances or changing attitudes and mind-sets towards the proliferation of technology and the constant threat of disruption to the profession.
In the first half of 2019 alone, the legal profession in Singapore witnessed a number of sweeping reforms and amendments, including the introduction of new laws and significant amendments to the existing legislation, to account for emerging trends and developments in areas such as criminal law and procedure, evidence act, the provision of legal aid, amongst others. These changes also present numerous opportunities for the legal profession to evolve and adapt to these changes – just as Singapore did over the past 700 years of its history. While we take time to pause, ponder and reflect on our journey so far – be it as a nation or as a profession – we should also consider how we can move forward together and chart the course forward. Here, the Law Society has extended efforts to help the legal profession seize these opportunities – various initiatives that the Law Society has spearheaded ensure that our lawyers are equipped with critical skills (for example, in legal tech) to embrace the inevitable changes that the profession will face looking ahead.
Just as our forefathers did 200 years ago, embracing the challenges and opportunities to shape the Singapore that we know today, we should all be confident that our legal profession can achieve the same as we continue to uphold the rule of law and ensure access to justice for the next 200 years to come.