29th IPBA Annual Meeting and Conference 2019 Singapore
Amardeep Singh s/o Gurcharan Singh was one of the recipients of the Law Society’s sponsorship for young lawyers to attend overseas conferences. As part of the sponsorship, the recipient must submit a paper on the conference that he or she attended.
From its inception in 1991, the Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA) has witnessed significant growth in both its membership and demographics. The IPBA derives strength from its warm embrace of individuals across all geographic and cultural boundaries. The IPBA brings together legal professionals who practise in the Asia-Pacific region and whose interests lie in overcoming the legal challenges confronting this region. According to some, the IPBA feels more like a “Family” than an “Association”. This sentiment was clearly felt and shared throughout the three-day Conference.
This year’s IPBA Annual Meeting and Conference took place from 25 to 27 April 2019 at Singapore’s Raffles City Convention Centre. I was privileged to be able to attend the IPBA Conference 2019 because of the Law Society of Singapore’s partial sponsorship of the conference participation fee. Over the course of three days, I benefitted tremendously by listening to legal professionals from both common and civil law jurisdictions practising in diverse areas of law. What struck me most about the speakers was the depth of their expertise and the rich intellectual discourse which they brought to the topics being discussed.
Diversity was an especially important theme at the start of the Conference. At the Conference’s Opening Ceremony, IPBA President Perry Pe, together with 10 of the IPBA’s past presidents, unveiled the IPBA’s new logo. This new logo, which is the product of discussions and submissions spanning many months, represents IPBA’s transformation from its inception to present day. It reflects the diversity amongst its members and represents its forward-thinking and inclusive culture. As soon as the Opening Ceremony concluded, the Conference was well underway.
Of the various plenary and concurrent panel sessions that I attended over the three days, two sessions are particularly memorable to me. The first was the plenary address given by Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim (Dato Anwar) and the second was the panel session entitled “Fake News: Legal Regulation & Challenges” (Fake News).
Justice was one of the themes featured in Dato Anwar’s address. Dato Anwar is no stranger to adversity. From facing numerous courtroom battles to the solitude of imprisonment, Dato Anwar experienced injustice for close to 20 years. Despite these obstacles, Dato Anwar did not surrender his faith or the hope that he would one day be vindicated and become a free man.
Today, Dato Anwar is a free man who possesses a “greater passion for freedom and justice”. He firmly believes in the “need for just laws and for the just administration of just laws”. Armed with that belief, and together with the present political administration, Dato Anwar fights for Malaysia and all Malaysians irrespective of race and religion. Faced with the daunting reality that the country’s coffers have been hollowed out, Dato Anwar fights to recover what has been unjustly siphoned off by some individuals belonging to the previous government. However, Dato Anwar is acutely aware that it would take time before Malaysia becomes stable again. Despite these challenges, Dato Anwar fights on, filled with hope that Malaysia will eventually recover and become strong once again.
The concurrent panel session on Fake News could not have been convened at a better time. After all, Singapore had introduced the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill which, as of today, has been passed into law as the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA). Without reference to Singapore’s POFMA, it was clear that serious doubts remain about the effectiveness of laws like POFMA which restrict one’s right to free speech. There was general consensus that the spread of disinformation, or false facts, is a problem clearly felt by many countries. Beyond that, however, there was a divergence of opinion over a range of related issues, which include:
- Whether the mischief lies in the uttering of false facts or its dissemination?
- Does the right of free speech protect speech (or facts) that is false?
- Should laws focus on regulating people who utter false facts or the platforms/ companies/service providers that enable its dissemination?
- Should people or entities who financially benefit from the existence and spread of false facts have their financial benefits disgorged?
- Should technology giants, such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and others, take the lead and introduce measures aimed at preventing the spread of false information?
The panel session on Fake News raised many difficult questions but few clear answers. What was clear, however, was the scepticism that exists about laws which might effectively restrict the right to free speech (which many accept is not an absolute right). In Singapore’s case, only time will tell whether POFMA is the appropriate cure for the disease of disinformation.
In addition to the rich intellectual discourse, the IPBA Conference allowed participants to foster friendships with lawyers from other countries. It facilitated the exchange of ideas and lay the groundwork for future collaboration between lawyers from Singapore and elsewhere. This exchange was greatly assisted by the culinary delights offered to all delegates throughout the Conference. This year’s Conference Organisers, led by Singapore’s Francis Xavier, SC, made sure that all delegates had a taste of Singapore, quite literally! Many delegates that I spoke with expressed their amazement at the variety of food, representing the different cultures, that was offered during the Conference. Many quipped that they might forget everything they learnt at the Conference but they would jolly well remember Singapore’s food!
For a young lawyer coming from a small firm, it is truly a privilege to be able to attend international conferences such as the IPBA Conference 2019. I was very fortunate to be able to attend this year’s IPBA Conference through the Law Society’s partial sponsorship. With the Law Society’s support, I was able to learn from professionals who have distinguished themselves in their respective practice areas. It enabled me to gain insight into developments that impact the profession as a whole and specific areas of law. In the process, new friendships were formed and existing ones renewed. For a junior lawyer who might otherwise feel out of place in the presence of more experienced practitioners, the IPBA Conference is one place where you will feel warmly welcomed. For that, I would highly recommend attendance at future IPBA Conferences to all junior lawyers.