Why 8 British law schools were dropped

Indranee Rajah.

The recent cut to the number of British law schools where Singaporeans can study for admission to the Bar here is not meant to control the number of lawyers and "beat market forces".

Instead, the aim is to ensure "a sufficient pipeline of quality legal talent" to support Singapore's legal needs, Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Law, told Parliament yesterday.

Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan- Toa Payoh GRC) and Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), both lawyers, expressed contrasting views on the issue.

Mr Vikram Nair argued for more regulation for those going overseas to study law, to save them the heartache of returning only to find that they cannot practise as a lawyer.

He believes the spurt began in 2011, when data on top earners in each profession was published. Lawyers being near the top of the list "might have sent a signal to prospective students that this might be a path to quick riches".

Official figures show the number of Singapore students reading law in Britain climbed from 350 in 2008 to 1,142 in 2013. This has led to more competition for a six-month practice training contract at a local law firm - a must to qualify as a lawyer.

Last year, nearly 650 graduates competed for about 490 contracts. While 94 per cent of local graduates landed one, the figure was just 70 per cent among graduates who studied abroad.

But Mr Hri Kumar Nair believes having a list of approved universities abroad is "inflexible, subjective and can be arbitrary".

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) two weeks ago dropped eight British law schools, leaving 11 on the approved list. The changes, which affect next year's intake, came after a Singapore Institute of Legal Education (Sile) review. The next review is in five years' time.

"I believe everyone who wants to practise law or any other discipline should be entitled to try, provided they meet the minimum standards to practise in Singapore and are prepared to compete in the market for work," said Mr Hri Kumar Nair, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law. He urged MinLaw not to change admission rules "so regularly", and suggested that quality can be maintained through the way the Bar exam is set.

Ms Indranee said MinLaw will discuss this with Sile and the Law Society, noting: "The number of available training contracts and retention of trainees are determined by the law firms, not the Government. It depends on their manpower needs, which in turn are determined by market forces."

She also said there are insufficient criminal and family law lawyers, a shortage "unlikely to be addressed by the current supply of law graduates, as many of them aspire to practise commercial... law". Community law-focused UniSim Law School (ULS), which will first take in 50 to 75 students a year, is a "targeted measure" to address this problem. She said the ULS steering committee is finalising its report and more details will be revealed later.

This article was first published on March 11, 2015.
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