Law Society marks 50th year with book

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (second from right) and Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran (far right) cutting a cake with past Law Society presidents (from left) Peter Cuthbert Low, Giam Chin Toon, Philip Jeyaretnam, Michael Hwang, and Arfat Se
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (second from right) and Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran (far right) cutting a cake with past Law Society presidents (from left) Peter Cuthbert Low, Giam Chin Toon, Philip Jeyaretnam, Michael Hwang, and Arfat Selvam, at the society's 50th anniversary dinner yesterday.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

CJ launches tome tracing group's growth and role in Singapore's legal profession

A book marking the Law Society's 50th year was launched yesterday by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon at a dinner to celebrate the group's Golden Jubilee year.

The book, the Chief Justice said, traces the Law Society's "tremendous growth as an organisation and the rapid development of Singapore's legal profession, from its roots in the colonial times through its eventful post-independence days, to its success as a regional hub today".

Anecdotes and accolades abound in the 276-page book, called Fiat Justitia - Fifty Years Of The Law Society Of Singapore.

It includes a story about the day a group of lawyers staged a skit called "Chief Justice Superstar" at the Law Society's 1996 annual dinner, with then Chief Justice Yong Pung How, a former banker, in the audience.

The skit was based on the popular Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Jesus Christ Superstar.

The Law Society president at the time, Mr Chandra Mohan K. Nair, writes in the book: "The skit was quite cheeky and critical, and sort of told him to go back to banking."

Two days after the dinner, he asked to meet Mr Yong. Registrar Chiam Boon Keng, who took notes, was also at the meeting.

Mr Nair told the former chief justice that sometimes, "people get carried away", and if an apology was required, he would apologise. Mr Nair went on for another 10 minutes and ended by asking Mr Yong if he would be attending the next year's dinner.

Mr Yong said: "Of course, we'll be there."

The book, written by Professor Kevin Tan and published by Straits Times Press, was commissioned by the Law Society to chronicle its journey in the last five decades.

Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran, in the book's preface, writes: "All major episodes in the society's history - from the colourful to the dark - are found in the pages. Frankly, there is enough drama to last a centennial."

Another former Law Society president, Mr Peter Cuthbert Low, recounted how he and two others met then Straits Times Editor Leslie Fong at a hotel at 11pm in 1992. They were concerned that the newspaper was giving prominence to reports involving errant lawyers.

He said Mr Fong told them to do some damage control and reassure the public. Said Mr Low: "Leslie told me, 'Peter, if something bad happens, I will give you some space, so, please say something. Please don't say 'no comment.'"

The book also offers glimpses into the life of a lawyer in the 1960s.

In one anecdote, the late Senior Counsel Joseph Grimberg described how he could not shop at Cold Storage at the time because it was a client of the law firm Drew & Napier, where he worked. He said: "That's in case you ran up a hefty bill and didn't pay, you see."

In his foreword for the book, Chief Justice Menon says sustained confidence in the administration of justice and Singapore's commitment to the rule of law is key to its success today as a commercial metropolis and financial hub.

And the Law Society plays a critical role in ensuring the legal profession upholds the rule of law, he notes.

The Chief Justice adds that the Law Society today "is not only responsible for the maintenance and improvement of standards of the legal profession in Singapore, but in many senses, it is also the face of the profession".

It has also served "as an initial reference point for the public, promising access to justice through the Pro Bono Service Office", which runs various programmes, he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2017, with the headline 'Law Society marks 50th year with book'. Print Edition | Subscribe