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Strength of legal system 'of first importance' to Mr Lee Kuan Yew

SINGAPORE — The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew stopped practising law when he became Prime Minister in 1959, but he continued to be deeply interested in the development of the nation’s legal profession and legal system, said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon today (March 23).

Chief Justice of Singapore Sundaresh Menon speaks during the Opening of 2015 Legal Year on Jan 5, 2015, TODAY file photo

Chief Justice of Singapore Sundaresh Menon speaks during the Opening of 2015 Legal Year on Jan 5, 2015, TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew stopped practising law when he became Prime Minister in 1959, but he continued to be deeply interested in the development of the nation’s legal profession and legal system, said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon today (March 23).

“In Mr Lee’s vision for Singapore, the strength and vitality of the legal system, including first-rate law schools, a strong and able profession and an outstanding legal service led by a free, independent and incorrupt judiciary, were matters of the first importance,” CJ Menon said in a statement, on behalf of the Singapore Judiciary, to mark Mr Lee’s passing.

The Chief Justice noted that from the start of his tenure as Prime Minister, Mr Lee set out to eradicate corruption in public institutions.

“To Mr Lee, the worth of a legal system was to be assessed not simply by the greatness or grandeur of its theoretical underpinnings, but more importantly, by whether it operated well at a practical level to ensure order and justice in dealings among citizens, and also in the relationship between the citizenry and the State,” CJ Menon said.

Apart from being a lifelong champion of the rule of law, Mr Lee was also “a keen proponent of continuous learning and development”. To him, this was essential if the legal profession in Singapore were to meet the challenges of globalisation sucessfully.

“He also believed that the quality of our legal services sector and the values of the legal profession would be strengthened if judges, senior lawyers and other members of the wider legal community would come together to mentor younger lawyers and inspire them with a passion for and a lifelong commitment to doing right by all,” CJ Menon said.

This led to the establishment of the Singapore Academy of Law (SAL) in 1988.

“More than a quarter of a century later, the SAL continues in its endeavour to ensure that the legal fraternity remains up-to-date with the latest legal developments from across the world, so that it is well-placed to learn from the best of these and to incorporate them within our system,” the Chief Justice said.

In a separate press statement, Law Society president Thio Shen Yi said the legal profession “owes a specific debt of gratitude” to Mr Lee.

“We enjoy effective, clear and enforceable laws, and an unimpeachable and incorruptible judiciary. We owe that first to Mr Lee’s clarity of vision that sustainable economic growth is underpinned by the rule of law, and second, his relentless opposition to corruption of any kind, exemplified by his zero-tolerance approach,” Mr Thio said.

He noted that Mr Lee was elected as the first Honorary Member of the Law Society under the Legal Profession Act — the society’s highest honour — for his outstanding contributions to Singapore and the legal profession.

“We will not see his like again, and are proud to count him as one of us,” Mr Thio said.

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