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MinLaw proposes split in Legal Service to allow greater specialisation for judicial, legal service officers

SINGAPORE — To allow greater specialisation for officers in the legal and judicial services, the Government on Monday (Sept 4) tabled two Bills that propose to restructure the Legal Service into separate commissions for the two distinct groups.

A view of the Supreme Court. The Ministry of Law has decided to restructure the Legal Service now when the system is stable and working well, it said, so as to allow space to make any adjustments after they are rolled out.

A view of the Supreme Court. The Ministry of Law has decided to restructure the Legal Service now when the system is stable and working well, it said, so as to allow space to make any adjustments after they are rolled out.

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  • The Ministry of Law has proposed to restructure the Legal Service into two specialised commissions for legal and judicial service officers
  • These moves, it said, will allow the Legal Service to benefit from greater specialisation
  • The number of Legal Service officers has risen to about 800 today from 235 in 1995

 

SINGAPORE — To allow greater specialisation for officers in the legal and judicial services, the Government on Monday (Sept 4) tabled two Bills that propose to restructure the Legal Service into separate commissions for the two distinct groups.

The proposed move is a result of rising numbers of Legal Service officers over the years, from 235 in 1995 to about 800 now.

All of them are deployed across government bodies and organs of state, either in judicial roles such as within the courts, or in legal roles within government ministries and the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

Under the two draft laws — the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill and the Judicial Service (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill — introduced in Parliament by Second Law Minister Edwin Tong on Monday, the Government is proposing a new Judicial Service Commission headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

If both Bills are passed into law, about 220 officers holding judicial posts, such as assistant registrars in the Supreme Court as well as district judges and magistrates in the State Courts and Family Courts, will be part of the new commission.

Another 580 legal service officers are proposed to come under the reconstituted Legal Service Commission, to be helmed by Attorney-General Lucien Wong.

The Bills propose that both services include the chairman of the Public Service Commission, who is presently Mr Lee Tzu Yang, as their vice-president.

The changes, if passed, are expected to be rolled out in January next year.

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) said in a statement after the Bills were introduced that these proposed moves would allow the Legal Service to benefit from greater specialisation and be placed on “a better footing for the future”.

“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,” said MinLaw.

In a motion at the end of a Parliament sitting in July, Mr Murali Pillai, Member of Parliament for Bukit Batok, argued that a separate Judicial Service Commission, with its own secretariat and ability to appoint officers, will be in a better position to nurture a specialist corps of judicial officers.

Mr Murali, a senior counsel and partner at law firm Rajah & Tann, said that this could mean lower legal costs for people involved in lawsuits.

“Specialisation among judges should not mean higher costs for litigants,” he added. 

“Rather, what I have in mind is the opposite. With greater specialisation, our judges will be more efficient and productive, and in a position to further rein in legal costs.”

Law Minister K Shanmugam had said in response then that the Government was prepared to consider restructuring the Legal Service provided that certain desirable features, such as ensuring breadth of exposure for younger officers, could be retained in a sensible way.

MinLaw said on Monday that it had decided to take the step now to restructure the Legal Service “when the system is stable and working well”, so as to allow space to make any necessary refinements after the restructuring is rolled out.

Attorney-General Wong said that the proposed move was a necessary step in the evolution of Singapore’s legal framework, while Chief Justice Menon said that such a structural split would enable the development of personnel-management frameworks as well as specialist training and professional development opportunities.

This, the chief justice said, will “better meet the particular needs of public sector legal officers”.

If passed, the Bills will allow both commissions to create their own personnel boards, which can appoint and promote junior officers in their respective services.

Secondments between the two proposed commissions are also possible, to give selected officers experience across the services, MinLaw said.

“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 ministry added.

Related topics

legal judicial Ministry of Law government lawyers court

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