Predicting the Year’s Top Legal Developments
At the start of last year, I’m certain that we wouldn’t have been able to predict how 2022 would have panned out.
We might have guessed that most of the world would be vaccinated, and that international travel would resume. We might have guessed that Argentina and Messi would win the World Cup, and that England would miss a penalty and be eliminated.
But I wouldn’t have foreseen the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the huge rise in interest rates or the cryptocurrency-related scandals that rocked the market.
And in the Singapore legal scene, many law-related issues that gripped the public’s attention, from Olympic gold-medal swimmer Joseph Schooling’s cannabis use, to the death penalty exchange between businessman Richard Branson and Law Minister K Shanmugam, to President Halimah Yacob’s call to allow caning for rapists above the age of 50.
These are my picks for the top three legal highlights in 2022:
Number 3: The Public Defender’s Office (PDO), a fully government-funded department of the Ministry of Law, is set up to cover Singaporeans in the 35th income percentile. Former deputy public prosecutor Wong Kok Weng is named the Chief Public Defender.
Number 2: Eleven trainees are found to have cheated in their Bar exams. The Law Society objects to their applications to be admitted as advocates and solicitors. The trainees eventually withdraw their applications.
Number 1: Section 377A of the Penal Code is repealed, and Article 156 of the Constitution is promulgated. Male homosexual activity is no longer criminalised, and Parliament’s definition of marriage cannot be subject to legal challenge.
Each of these developments had widespread impact on the public.
The PDO changes the dynamic between the needy, the prosecution and the defence counsel. The long-term impact of the PDO on the legal profession is something that the Law Society will continue to research and discuss.
The Bar exam cheats proved that Singaporeans retain the view that the legal profession is the preserve of the honourable. As far as the public is concerned, only those of the highest integrity should be admitted as advocates and solicitors.
The repeal of Section 377A, and the passage of Article 156, show the central role that the law plays in reflecting changing public norms and views. Outdated views on crime are abolished, while traditional institutions are safeguarded. Further, it demonstrates that Singapore prefers legislative change to be enacted through Parliament than through the courts.
Overall, these legal highlights tell us that the law, and lawyers, continue to occupy an important role in the public sphere.
What legal developments will 2023 bring? If it’s anything like 2022, we’ll continue to be surprised.