Making legal tidal waves

Making legal tidal waves

There can be no doubt that Singapore's legal world is in for an exciting ride with the accession of Mr Vijaya Kumar Rajah SC (universally abbreviated to V.K. Rajah) to the crucially important position of Attorney-General.

Like retired chief justice Chan Sek Keong and current Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Mr Rajah completes the grand slam, from a managing partner and senior counsel in a mega-firm, to the heights of judicial office as a Judge of Appeal, and now the Attorney-General of Singapore.

Wherever Mr Rajah has trodden, he has made tidal waves in the legal landscape.

Under the leadership of Mr Rajah and his successors, Rajah and Tan (founded by his redoubtable father T.T. Rajah which started out with only six lawyers) has flourished and is now one of the largest firms in the country with over 300 lawyers under its wing. In his judicial capacity, he co-chaired the Committee for Family Justice and the Singapore International Commercial Court Committee with Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah, making key recommendations to benefit the family justice system and the legal services sector respectively.

His tour of duty was also marked by a series of judgments - aptly described by the Minister for Law as "ground-breaking" - which have collectively changed the tone of criminal justice in Singapore.

While the Attorney-General is not a judge, Mr Rajah's legacy of inspiring judgments reveals the kind of fundamental criminal justice values he holds and is likely to continue to hold as the Attorney-General. An entire volume can be written about this, but two examples will suffice to give a flavour of the person.

The presumption of innocence

The idea that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law is seldom thought to require further explanation, yet its implications in some contexts are not so straightforward. For instance, if an accused is acquitted on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction, is he to be presumed innocent? Or can he still be considered, in some sense, factually guilty (but not legally guilty) of the crime?

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