10 Oct 2019 Posted in Speeches
President of the Law Society of Singapore, Mr Gregory Vijayendran SC,
Friends of the Bar,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Very Good evening to all of you.
I am happy that we are here today for this opening.
It came about because of a lot of effort, working together – my Ministry and the Law Society.
I will go back to something I said some time ago, in fact 10 years ago, when I first spoke to the Law Society. I said the Law Society in any country has a number of roles. I spoke about 3:
- First, as an arbiter of standards, professional values for the legal profession;
- Second, to provide thought leadership for the profession, and embracing change as it comes; and
- Third, being an effective representative, advocating for the Profession with other interlocutors, in particular the Government.
I think those roles remain very relevant today.
A constructive relationship founded on mutual trust
- I am very happy that over several years now, the Law Society and the Government have built a very strong and constructive relationship.
- We work well together. What that has meant, when we work well together, is that it has benefitted the Profession, and benefitted Singapore.
- If I can go back to something that Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin said in his Response at the Opening of the Legal Year 1986:
“Unless there is unity and a willingness to co-operate among all who have anything to do with the administration of justice, there will be no success for anyone.”
- That was also cited by the current Chief Justice, when he delivered the Singapore Academy of Law Annual Lecture in 2018.
- To use the words of Chief Justice Wee, I think the unity of purpose between the Law Society and the Government, and the willingness to co-operate over the years, has been good for the profession, for the Law Society, and for Singapore.
Collaborations with Law Society
- In terms of how we have been working, you have heard from Mr Gregory Vijayendran, let me just touch on a few things that we have done and are doing together.
- For example, the Enhanced CLAS. We announced in 2013 that the government would aid criminal legal aid. This was a fundamental change for the government and a significant shift. We worked with the Law Society, Criminal Bar and the Courts.
- The enhanced CLAS was launched in 2015. We were able to move so quickly because of very strong support from all the stakeholders, in particular Law Society.
- This is run by the Law Society Pro Bono Services. The Government provides most of the funding, PBS raises funds to cover some of the costs. There is of course very strong support from a number of law firms. They are in fact the backbone of the scheme and volunteers take up 80% of the cases.
- Second, the scheme that Mr Vijayendran talked about, Lawyers Go Global. We launched it together with Law Society, and Enterprise Singapore last year.
- And third, we have worked and are working with Law Society very closely to help law firms exploit technological disruption as an opportunity, rather than face it as a threat.
- So we have stepped up our efforts:
Tech-celerate for Law,
a. Essentially the Government puts some money on the table for law firms for the use of tech.
b. In 4 months, more than 40 Singapore law practices have signed up to more than 50 funded solutions. This is part-funded; they have also put some money into it.
- Rather than going into the details, I put those into the Annex. I think these set out how we can work to help people on the ground, real work, rather than just talking about it.
Ongoing engagements with Law Society
- Beyond specific engagements of this nature - which are very regular – the other thing that has given me a considerable amount of satisfaction, is the way we have been able to work with the Law Society on quite a lot of legislation that we sit together and discuss, some publicly and some privately, but always constructively.
- There are many examples.
- Proposal on civil justice reforms are one. LawSoc helped us to facilitate the meetings between MinLaw and practitioners on a number of aspects. I think the feedback was very useful, and we took them onboard.
- The amendments to the criminal procedure code last year, also. We had extensive, very candid, dialogues with the Law Society and the Criminal Bar, and again we took on board a number of suggestions that were made.
- And this year, I think there’s been a lot of pieces of legislation.
- So it has been a good partnership, beneficial overall for the framework of the practice of law in Singapore.
- I would now like to say a few words, a little bit more than what I said a few weeks ago on a significant change we are thinking of, which we think will help lawyers and also help with the access to justice.
- And that’s Litigation Funding.
- There are different types of Litigation Funding.
- You have Third-Party funding (TPF). Two years ago, we introduced Third-Party funding for the first time, for International Arbitration Proceedings.
- Feedback on TPF has been good; global business and arbitration communities welcomed the changes, and funders saw an upturn in requests for funding in Singapore, which means more work in Singapore.
- That, together with other efforts, really strengthens our position as a Centre for International Commercial Arbitration.
- We have now decided to extend Third-Party funding to domestic arbitration as well as prescribed proceedings in the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC). And also for mediations arising out of or connected with these proceedings.
Second, we are considering very seriously the introduction of Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs) for the same categories of proceedings –
(1) domestic and international arbitrations,
(2) as well as prescribed SICC proceedings.
- We think this will again help in the arbitration work and strengthen our position as a dispute resolution hub. It will also level the playing field for our own lawyers, and foreign lawyers because the latter are able to offer such agreements where CFAs are permitted. I think this would be welcomed by lawyers, particularly those in the arbitration sector.
- Under this framework, say a lawyer enters into a Conditional Fee Agreement with a client. He will receive payment of some or all of his legal fees only if the claim is successful. And in some cases, there can be an uplift in the legal fees charged.
- So some people will worry, “Oh, does that mean that we can’t fix a fee or we can’t charge as we used to charge?” No, that’s not the case, this is an additional option.
- CFAs are proposed to be available in addition to the usual ways of charging fees. So lawyers can say, “Look, I work on a fixed pay, or I work on time costs, or whatever methods you have, you can continue.” So this is an add-on.
- We have had consultations on this. Feedback has just been received, we will review it.
- Separately, we do not stand still, we are studying whether CFAs can be expanded to some other categories of domestic proceedings, in order to promote access to justice.
- So we look at it as an access to justice issue.
- Again, it will be a significant move, if made, and we will continue to engage the relevant stakeholders including, obviously, the Law Society.
- We take your views seriously because there is trust.
- If there is no trust, the position will be very different.
- So we, the Government, have a duty, to listen to the profession, weigh the different factors, and make a decision that we believe serves the public interest.
- So it is not just the interest of the legal profession, it has to be serving the public interest, but we take your feedback very seriously in that.
- And my experience is that Law Society understands that perfectly.
- Mr Lee Kuan Yew spoke at the LawSoc’s Annual Dinner in 1977, 42 years ago, and I quote:
“Unless we learn very quickly as individuals and as functional and professional groups to take the wider view and uphold first, the public interests and only next our sectional interests, the democratic system cannot endure, let alone flourish.”
- This is as true today as it was more than 40 years ago.
- And I believe all of us in the legal fraternity will accept that view.
Support for Law Society office at Maxwell Chamber Suites
- So let me now turn to this particular move, here to Maxwell Chambers Suites. I think Greg, I don’t know whether half seriously, compared this with the Panama Canal. I think most people would say it is a little bit different.
- Maxwell Chambers Suites was opened a few weeks ago, on 8th August. As you all know, there is a very high demand for office space in this building from top firms to international institutions and organisations.
- But I felt that Law Society, as the Representative Body of the Legal Profession in Singapore, should have a presence here – if at all possible.
- It became possible.
- We facilitated negotiations between LawSoc and Maxwell Chambers Suites, I think they were persuaded that a lower rental ought to be given.
- My Ministry also decided that we will provide funding support on top of this lower rate.
- We do this to acknowledge the role that Law Society has played, and we hope will play, and the importance the Government places on Law Society.
- This is a prestigious address. It gives the Law Society considerable standing. Something that as lawyers, all of us, and I include myself in that, we can be proud about.
- My heartiest congratulations. Best wishes and thank you.
Last updated on 10 Oct 2019