Faster rotation of A-Gs in recent years

Faster rotation of A-Gs in recent years
Justice V.K. Rajah (centre) will be attorney-general in June. His predecessors include outgoing A-G Steven Chong (bottom left), Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (top right), Professor Walter Woon (top left) and Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin (bottom right).

SINGAPORE - With the arrival of yet another new face in June, Singapore would have had five attorneys-general (A-Gs) in the past eight years - a sharp contrast to the two preceding incumbents Tan Boon Teik and Chan Sek Keong, who served 40 years between them.

Reacting to the news, lawyers said the relatively short two-year terms for the recent A-G appointments may point to a rotational norm compared to the earlier years.

This, in turn, could indicate an increasing desire to limit the office terms, given the wide extent of the A-G's powers, said a senior lawyer who did not want to be named.

Some lawyers expressed reservations at this perceived trend, suggesting that a two-year term may be too short for an A-G to put in place plans that may be "unravelled" by a successor.

Senior lawyer Niru Pillai said: "The fact is, (long-serving) A-Gs in the past like Chan Sek Keong did a fantastic job and that worked very well in the country."

Former Law Society president Peter Low said that a five-year term may be more ideal. He said a new appointee needs time to become familiar with the job, particularly if he is from outside the department.

Still, lawyers generally lauded the work achievements of the departing A-G Steven Chong, who leaves after a two- year term in office, and his successor, Judge of Appeal V.K. Rajah.

They pointed to the 57-year-old's distinguished work on the Bench and his past achievements in private practice.

Law Society president and Senior Counsel Lok Vi Ming noted his "lucid and robust judgments, many of which are landmark and transformational pronouncements of the law". "His contributions to the legal landscape here have helped to lay the foundation for the development of the law for many years to come," he said.

"Justice Rajah will no doubt further strengthen the office of Attorney- General and the relations between Chambers and the Bar. We pledge our support to Justice Rajah in his new appointment and look forward to working closely with him at the helm of the Attorney- General's Chambers."

Sharing similar sentiments, Association of Criminal Lawyers Singapore president Subhas Anandan said Justice Rajah "suits the bill", given his vast experience. "An A-G needs to be tough, but also compassionate as well, and he is appropriate for the job," he said.

Justice Rajah graduated from the National University of Singapore in 1982 with several prizes for academic merit, and obtained an LLM (First Class) from the University of Cambridge in 1986.

From 1987 to 2003, he headed Rajah & Tann, one of Singapore's "Big Four" law firms, prior to being appointed judicial commissioner and then judge in November 2004. He was made a Judge of Appeal in April 2007.

He has chaired several key committees, and now co-chairs the Family Justice Review Committee that has been tasked with reviewing and recommending reforms to the family justice system.

The Law Society also paid tribute to outgoing Mr Chong, noting that he "brought his rich experience as an outstanding practitioner" to the AGC.

"As attorney-general, Mr Chong continued to strengthen the relationship between his Chambers and the Bar," it said.

"He oversaw and inspired numerous initiatives with the Bar, in particular, the Code of Practice for the Conduct of Criminal Proceedings and the Appropriate Adult scheme, both of which could not have been realised without his strong personal support."

Expressing gratitude, Mr Lok said: "His support for the profession will be remembered for a very long time."

Mr Chong was managing partner of Rajah & Tann from 2003 to 2009 before being appointed judicial commissioner and then High Court judge in June 2010.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 29 in The Straits Times.

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