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The Singapore Law Gazette

CC Tan Award Acceptance Speech by Leo Cheng Suan

Honourable Attorney-General, Honourable Judges, Guests and Friends.

A Judge once told me that there are three magic words spoken by lawyers that will bring a smile to his face.

The first magic word is “brief”, so I promise you that I will be brief.

I was told that the recipient needs to give a speech, for the younger lawyers to learn about the highest ideals of the Legal Profession. I would like to talk about what Mr C C Tan stands for, and in doing so, I would like to mention three lawyers, whom I have had the privilege of knowing.

The first C C Tan recipient was Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah, from Tan Rajah & Cheah, the vey firm which Mr C C Tan founded with Chelva’s father.

I once represented some lawyers in a partnership dispute. Parties appeared before the Honourable Justice Quentin Loh. Judge told me and my opposing counsel:

Such a matter should bemediated for the good of the legal profession – go see Chelva or Giam.

I called Mr Chelva Rajah, with the Order of Court – after listening, he asked me, in local parlance: “why I kena”. But he gamely took on the job nevertheless – mediated for almost one full year, including on weekends (when I am sure he would prefer to be watching cricket) and settled the matter. All for free!

That is the patience and ethos of Chelva – who, even up till today, takes on cases which we mere mortals would hesitate to touch.

The second recipient of the C C Tan Award was Mr TPB Menon. Mr Menon is a humble man who eschews the limelight, and does not like his photographs to appear in Law Society publications. When I pupiled at Wee Swee Teow, I offered to carry his heavy court files when going to court. Mr Menon did not allow it. He is always a courteous and decent man.

Lawyers then were coming to Mr Menon for free advice on his expertise areas of Land Law, Trusts and Equity.

On one occasion, he taught a lawyer how to argue a complex case; the lawyer then went to court alone, duly and confidently armed with Mr Menon’s arguments, and his case was thrown out.

When informed about this, Mr Menon asked the lawyer to seek further arguments, went to court with the lawyer for free, and politely tutored the Judge on the finer point of the law, and obtained the Order sought. The lawyer later protested privately that it was exactly how he had argued the case before, but his case had been thrown out. So you see, it is not what one says, but who says it – and that is the reputation and brilliance of Mr Menon, who loves the law, and who is always willing to help his fellow lawyers.

The third recipient of the C C Tan Award was Senior Counsel Harry Elias. When I first met Harry, I was then a junior lawyer, and I addressed him as “Mr Elias”. He gently chided me – and said that once I was called to the Bar, I was his peer, and may call him “Harry” in private, but never “ or Uncle”. Harry taught me how to treat a fellow lawyer with mutual respect.

Harry contributed immensely to the Bar by being one of the key promoters of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS), and the public has benefited greatly from CLAS. Moreover, because of CLAS, lawyers are deemed as Public Defenders, and placed in higher esteem as compassionate human beings. Even up to this year, Harry still continues to act for CLAS and to selflessly serve society.

If you connect all the dots of these pioneers, you will find the common thread of Mr C C Tan’s virtues – Honesty, Fair play, Courtesy and Professional Integrity.

Another virtue of Mr C C Tan, embodied in all the other earlier recipients, is that of serving fellow lawyers, our Law Society and the public. Their motivation is not about billable hours, but a deep sense of justice, service and duty.

The takeaway of all of these ideals would be the Golden Rule:

Do unto others what you wish others to do unto you,

and the opposite side of the same coin:

Do not do unto others what you do not wish others to do unto you.

Time does not permit me to tell the story of the 4th C C Tan Award recipient, my pupil master, Senior Counsel Giam Chin Toon, who has helped the Law Society time and again in periods of crises, and the other previous recipients, all legal luminaries, who represent the lofty ideals of the Legal Profession.

These giants of the legal fraternity have done us proud, and are inspirational role models, and we should seek to emulate them.

That brings me to the second magic word, which will bring a smile to a Judge’s face, and a twinkle to his eyes: that word is “conclusion”.

In conclusion, I wish to thank our Council, led by President Gregory, for giving me this honour. The work of Council members is arduous and challenging, particularly in championing for the independence and rights of the Bar, not to mention all of which is done for free.

In the true tradition of the Bar, Council members even have to pay for their own annual dinner, which they are today hosting. All these eat into their family time and billable hours, and we should applaud the Council members for their sense of commitment.

I cannot say that I measure up to the earlier C C Tan Award recipients. I am very humbled to receive this Award, especially when there are many other prominent senior members of the Bar who are worthy.

This Award will keep me on my toes and remind me of the ideals and standards that I have to live up to, and to continually strive towards.

Finally, as to the last magic word which would bring a smile to a Judge’s face: that word is “adjourn. We can now adjourn for our dinner.

Thank you and wishing you all a very pleasant evening and a great weekend.

Mr Leo Cheng Suan receiving the award from Mr Gregory Vijayendran

Leo Cheng Suan

The Law Gazette is the official publication of the Law Society of Singapore.