He abolished Singapore's jury system

He abolished Singapore's jury system

A stroll along downtown Singapore will take you past historic buildings like MacDonald House, the Istana and Chijmes.

These national monuments stand as precious markers of Singapore's history, thanks to the Preservation of Monuments Act put in place by the late Mr E. W. Barker.

As Minister for National Development, he wanted to guard against the day when "we wake up to find our historic monuments either bulldozed or crumbling to dust through neglect".

But perhaps the most important document he drafted, which altered the course of Singapore's history, was the Proclamation of Singapore.

Read by then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on Aug 9, 1965, it announced Singapore's separation from Malaysia and declared the nation's independence.

Mr Barker got his start in politics in 1963, when, as a practising lawyer at Lee & Lee law firm, he was approached by the late Mr Lee to be Law Minister.

"He was honest. He was capable. He was honourable. I trusted him," Mr Lee said.

He flourished in the position, which he held until 1988, and made many landmark decisions.

Among them was the abolishment of the jury system.

JUSTICE

He said: "Speaking for myself, I feel that this very important aspect of the administration of justice should not be left in the hands of what are, after all, seven laymen..."

In spite of his standing, Mr Barker was a down-to-earth man who never put on any airs.

At the Singapore Recreation Club, which he frequented, even the waiters liked him.

Club member Johnny Goh said: "He was always jovial, very down-to-earth, and would speak to anyone, rich or poor."

As a passionate sports fan, Mr Barker also showered encouragement on local athletes.

In 1979, Singapore's top female hurdler, Heather Marican, lost to Malaysia's Marina Chin during the Jakarta SEA Games.

Local papers pounced on her defeat but Mr Barker's first reaction was: "Well done, Heather, you did us proud."

When it was Singapore's turn to host the SEA Games in 1973, he decided that the Jalan Besar Stadium was not good enough and oversaw the construction of the Kallang National Stadium.

When the Games kicked off, Singapore could boast the most modern facilities in the Games' 14-year history.

In 2011, 10 years after Mr Barker's death at age 80, the Kallang National Stadium was demolished to make way for the Singapore Sports Hub.

But what he left behind is much more permanent - a sporting culture he lovingly cultivated which will be on full display at the upcoming SEA Games.

FAST FACTS

He described himself as 25 per cent German, 25 per cent Indonesian, 25 per cent Scottish, 12.5 per cent Japanese and 12.5 per cent Irish.

He was heavily involved in music. In his early years, he was a choir boy at St Paul's Church and at 16, he was a member of one of the first local Hawaiian-style bands.

In 1984, he was made an honorary life member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

WHAT YOU DIDN'T KNOW

Mr E. W. Barker was one of the country's top student athletes before World War II.

A young Mr Barker won a Raffles College scholarship after representing his school in cricket, football, rugby and athletics.

He also played badminton in Cambridge University and was part of the fiercely-named hockey team Harimau (Malay for tiger) comprising members from Singapore and Malaya.

He once said: "I wish I was the Sports Minister. But then, who would run Law?"

He brought the Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games to Singapore twice and became president of the SEAP Federation in 1973.

For his contributions to sporting excellence, the International Olympic Committee conferred on him the Olympic Order (Silver) in 1985.


This article was first published on May 18, 2015.
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