A new competency framework to raise the standards of in-house counsel will be launched this year, and the Ministry of Law will explore if it should be made mandatory in the future, said Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah.
Speaking during the debate on the ministry's budget yesterday, she said it will monitor the adoption of the framework.
She added that the ministry, together with the Economic Development Board, has been actively encouraging companies to "anchor their decision makers with global or regional mandate in Singapore". This includes in-house legal teams.
Singapore had more in-house legal employees than Hong Kong and Shanghai in 2014, she noted, citing a study of Fortune Global 500 employment in corporate functions by Aon.
Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) said the framework will set out a clearer career pathway for in-house counsel at different seniority levels.
Total bill: Down 6.4 per cent
applications for protection orders under the Protection from Harassment Act as of Jan 31 this year
in-house counsel in Singapore
applications to the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme for legal help last year
It will act as a national standard for the in-house industry, he added.
Developed by the Singapore Corporate Counsel Association (SCCA), it will cover three categories of competencies: legal, business and conduct.
"Singapore should aim to be, and is certainly capable of becoming, the Asian hub for in-house legal capability," said Mr Tay, a corporate member of the SCCA. "This will help attract multinational corporations, whether Western or Asian, to invest or continue to invest here."
SCCA president Wong Taur-Jiun told The Straits Times yesterday that the association has been working on the framework for about a year, with its launch targeted for the second or third quarter of the year .
On top of some 2,000 in-house counsel here, recruiters and employers can benefit by referring to the framework during their hiring and training processes, he added.
To further develop the in-house legal talent pool, Mr Tay urged the Government to make the framework mandatory "at some point".
"Singapore is one of the few countries in which in-house counsel are not required to meet any form of professional standards, or any form of continuing education," he said.
Ms Indranee agreed with the need to upgrade capabilities among legal professionals: "To ensure that our legal industry continues to be vibrant and competitive internationally, key stakeholders must actively embrace disruptive change and grasp the opportunities at hand."
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, in his speech, called for more growth in the use of Singapore law in the region.
Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) asked how the ministry can boost the country's status as a dispute resolution hub.
Mr Shanmugam said there is an increasing use of Singapore law in cross-border transactions in the region. However, "growth in this trend must come from businesses, led by parties and industries".
He added that "they will benefit from the emergence of a default Asian law." He noted that the ministry has supported various centres of excellence, including those specialising in regional law.
Several MPs also asked about enhancing access to justice. Mr Tay sought an update on cases under the Protection from Harassment Act, which came into force in November 2014.
As of Jan 31 this year, there have been 268 applications for protection orders filed by victims of sexual, workplace and online harassment, Ms Indranee said. And 96 protection orders have been granted, with 99 applications withdrawn. There were also 77 expedited protection orders granted.