Structural Changes to the Legal Service to Deepen Capabilities and Better Meet Evolving Demands
04 Oct 2021 Posted in Press releases
The Government is proposing to:
a. Establish a separate Judicial Service, overseen by a newly established Judicial Service Commission (JSC) headed by the Chief Justice. Legal Service Officers (LSOs) currently holding judicial posts, such as Assistant Registrars in the Supreme Court and District Judges and Magistrates in the State Courts and Family Courts, will be transferred to the new Judicial Service, as Judicial Service Officers (JSOs).
b. Make consequential changes to the Legal Service, which will be overseen by a reconstituted Legal Service Commission (LSC) headed by the Attorney-General. The Legal Service will comprise LSOs holding other (non-judicial) posts in Government, such as in the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) or Ministries.
- These structural changes aim to put both Services on a better footing for the future, by allowing them to reap the benefits of greater specialisation. With greater flexibility to adapt their personnel management frameworks to their respective needs and circumstances, the two Services will be better positioned to meet the growing demands of an increasingly complex and rapidly evolving legal landscape. Taking this step now, when the system is stable and working well, provides space to make refinements if needed after the restructuring is implemented.
- The changes will be made through the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill and the Judicial Service (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill (collectively, “the Bills”), which the Ministry of Law has tabled for First Reading today. If passed, the changes are expected to be implemented in January 2022.
Systematic Building Up of the Legal Service Over the Years
- The Legal Service has provided a dedicated corps of LSOs deployed across the Government under an integrated model since before Singapore’s independence. All LSOs are centrally overseen by the LSC and can be deployed to serve in both the Judicial and Legal branches of the Legal Service over the course of their careers. 1 This integrated model has helped the Legal Service to develop into a premier service, by enabling LSOs to gain experience and build the necessary expertise to meet the diverse needs of the Government. Consequently, the Legal Service has played a crucial role in cementing Singapore’s reputation for adherence to the rule of law and our effective legal system, including a world-class Judiciary.
- In recent years, the Legal Service has grown significantly in tandem with the increasing complexity of public sector legal work. To illustrate, while it took 30 years for the Legal Service to grow from 45 LSOs in 1965 to 235 LSOs in 1995, in a comparable period since then, the Legal Service has further expanded substantially, to about 800 LSOs today.
- To respond to the growing demands on the Legal Service, the Government took a significant step in 2014 to support increasing specialisation in the Legal Service. Separate “Judicial” and “Legal” career tracks were set up for LSOs in the middle ranks, and the personnel boards overseeing human resource functions were re-organised – one for Judicial branch officers; and another for Legal branch officers. The overall aim was to enable the management and development of LSOs along more dedicated “Judicial” or “Legal” career tracks, while still retaining the flexibility of an integrated model, to allow younger officers to gain a breadth of exposure and facilitate cross deployment of the limited number of senior LSOs to both the Judicial and Legal branches.
Separate Services to Meet the Needs of an Evolving, Complex Legal Environment
- Earlier this year, Member of Parliament (MP) Mr Murali Pillai filed an Adjournment Motion in Parliament, calling on the Government to study the feasibility of setting up a separate JSC for judicial officers. Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam, acknowledged that the MPs had made compelling points, and said that the Government was prepared to consider restructuring the Legal Service, provided that certain “desirable features” of the integrated model – such as ensuring breadth of exposure for younger officers – could be retained in a sensible way. Minister Shanmugam noted that this was not the first time this had been raised, and added that the benefits of greater specialisation would likely increase, and trade-offs reduced, as the Legal Service continues growing. He announced that a Working Group had been set up to study the issues that may arise, should the restructuring proceed.
- Having studied the matter further, the Government has decided to proceed with the proposed restructuring of the Legal Service, drawing from the considerations that Minister Shanmugam set out in Parliament. On the tabling of the Bills, Minister Shanmugam said, “The Government has agreed that it is an appropriate time to make these structural changes to the Legal Service. The decision was taken after discussions with the Chief Justice and the Attorney-General; and consideration of the pros and cons of specialisation (including the impact of the changes in 2014), the current size of the Legal Service, and the Working Group’s findings.”
- The structure and functions of the new JSC and reconstituted LSC are largely modelled after today’s LSC, with appropriate adjustments to account for the restructuring.
- Functions. The respective Commissions will exercise personnel management functions in respect of the officers in their respective Services.
Composition. The members on each Commission will be as follows:
a. The The Chief Justice will be President of the JSC. The Attorney-General will be President of the LSC.
b. The Chairman of the Public Service Commission (PSC) will be Vice-President of both the JSC and LSC.
c. The respective Presidents of the Commissions, PSC Chairman and the Prime Minister may each nominate up to two members to the respective Commissions, subject to the President’s concurrence.2
Personnel Boards. With the reconstitution of the Legal Service, and the creation of a new Judicial Service, a system of autonomous personnel boards will no longer be appropriate. Instead, the Commission will retain broad oversight over any personnel boards that are established.
a. Each Commission will be empowered to delegate, to one or more personnel boards, any of its functions and powers, save for those relating to: (1) senior officers at or above a designated grade, and (2) discipline and dismissal of any officers. Functions and powers relating to both these areas will be exercised directly, by the Commission.
b. The appointment of members to any personnel boards will continue to be subject to the President’s concurrence.
- Movement between Services. Cross-Service secondments will continue to be made available on application, where useful to provide selected officers with cross-Service experience. Permanent transfers between the Services will also be available, subject to the prevailing personnel rules put in place by the Commissions, for officers who prefer to pursue their career in the other Service in the long-term.
The Working Group studied the transitional issues involved in the restructuring of the Legal Service, and submitted its findings to the Government on 22 September 2021. Reflecting feedback gathered from a series of townhalls that were open to all LSOs, the Working Group highlighted and offered its recommendations on a number of key issues to be managed should the restructuring proceed, including the following:
a. The guiding principle should be to minimise, as much as possible, disruption to judicial and legal organisations, agencies, and the work and development of LSOs.
b. As a general rule, LSOs should be assigned to the Service in accordance with the branch to which they are posted on the date the restructuring takes effect (e.g. an officer holding a post in the Judicial branch will be assigned to be a JSO; and vice versa, for an officer in the Legal branch).
c. Officers should remain in the reconstituted Legal Service, or transfer to the new Judicial Service, under the same terms and conditions of service as those applicable to him/her immediately before the restructuring.
- We would like to record our appreciation of the work and effort put in by the Working Group into its review. The Government agrees with the Working Group’s recommendations and will work with the JSC and LSC to implement them.
MINISTRY OF LAW
04 OCTOBER 2021
1. Posts in the Judicial branch include District Judges and Magistrates in the State Courts and Family Courts, and Assistant Registrars in the Supreme Court. Posts in the Legal branch include prosecutors, law drafters, and Government legal advisors in the AGC, and other legal roles in Government agencies. ↩
2. If the respective Presidents of the Commissions, PSC Chairman or the Prime Minister nominates two members, at least one of the two must be legally-trained and of adequate seniority. The requirement that nominated members cannot be public officers, Members of Parliament, office-holders in any political association or trade union members, will be retained. ↩
Last updated on 04 Oct 2021