2 career tracks for mid-level officers

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (from left), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Law Minister K. Shanmugam at the Legal Service dinner at the Shangri-La Hotel on Thursday night.

TWO separate career tracks will be created for the middle ranks of the Legal Service from next month, to give officers greater opportunities for specialisation.

They can opt for either the Legal or Judicial track, and will then be posted to jobs within each branch to gain experience and hone their skills, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday.

"We need a first-class Legal Service, and that in turn calls for a first-class personnel management system," he said at a dinner for the service at Shangri-La Hotel.

The Judicial Branch includes district judges and magistrates in the State Courts, and registrars at the Supreme Court Registry. Under the Legal Branch will come deputy public prosecutors and state counsel in the Attorney-General's Chambers, and statutory boards and ministries' legal officers.

There are currently 587 legal service officers, and they account for about 10 per cent of Singapore's practising lawyers.

To oversee officers' career development, personnel boards for both branches will be set up under the Legal Service Commission (LSC) chaired by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

The move to split the Legal Service has been studied before, but Singapore stuck to an integrated model previously as there were too few officers to support separate tracks, Mr Lee told his audience, which included the Chief Justice, Law Minister K. Shanmugam and Attorney-General Steven Chong.

But it was timely to review this as the Legal Service has grown more than tenfold from 45 officers in 1965, and officers can now specialise without conscribing their career prospects.

The scope and complexity of work in the Government, courts and Attorney-General's Chambers have also grown enormously, Mr Lee added.

Work in ministries, for instance, has widened to include drafting new laws and negotiating free trade agreements.

Junior officers starting out on their careers will still be posted to different departments and across the two branches to develop them in different legal fields and to learn about their interests.

Senior officers will still be managed by the LSC.

Amid the move towards greater specialisation however, it is critical that the Legal Service operates as an integrated whole, Mr Lee said.

He called on his audience to carry out their duties and uphold the rule of law without fear or favour, and keep pace with changes while remaining anchored to Singapore's values and circumstances.

In his speech, Mr Lee also paid tribute to the effective and well-functioning legal system's role in Singapore's transformation over the years.

He recalled the words of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1962: "The acid test of any legal system is not the greatness or grandeur of its ideal concepts, but whether in fact it is able to produce order and justice in the relationships between man and man, and between man and the State."

Those principles remain true today, PM Lee said, and when laws are developed and updated, Singapore must be guided by what works best for the country.

It will study other countries' legislation when drafting new laws, he added, and see how these can be adapted to the local context.

"But whether in jurisprudence or legislation, we must never import precedents or foreign ideas uncritically, without first asking whether they are relevant to us, and whether it makes sense for us to go in the same direction," Mr Lee said.

Chief Justice Menon, in his speech, said of the forthcoming changes: "We are moving forward from a position of strength. Today, the Legal Service is not only larger and more diverse, we are also more capable and adaptable than we have ever been."

limze@sph.com.sg

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