Looking back on S'pore's law scene

As the Law Society turns 50 this year, top lawyers talk about the most memorable cases they have handled. Senior law correspondent K.C. Vijayan reports.

The latest issue of the Law Gazette gives the reader a front-row view of the last 50 years of Singapore's rich legal history, as told by the lawyers involved in some of the cases.

The special edition of the magazine is one of the highlights as the Law Society marks its Jubilee year with a host of events spread over this year.

Senior Counsel (SC) Lok Vi Ming, who chairs the 50th anniversary celebrations committee, said: "It is important that we celebrate the contributions of the men and women who quietly, but faithfully and generously, make time to teach, train and encourage young lawyers to love and respect the practice of law."

Several senior lawyers shared their experiences and views in the issue, as well as their most memorable cases. Fortis Law Corporation lawyer Patrick Tan, for instance, talked about how he had defended a man who "probably became the first known person in Singaporean history to get charged for trespassing onto the island of Pedra Branca". He recalled that the case happened in 2008, at about the time that Singapore and Malaysia were contesting ownership of the island at the International Court of Justice.

His Singaporean client, Mr Roger Lee, 39, was living in Batam at the time and wanted to return here.

"But he was broke, so he hired a boatman on a one-way trip. The plan was for the sampan to loiter... and wait for the Singapore Navy or Police Coast Guard to spot them, rescue my client and fetch him back to Singapore," said Mr Tan.

TRIBUTE

It is important that we celebrate the contributions of the men and women who quietly, but faithfully and generously make time to teach, train and encourage young lawyers to love and respect the practice of law.

SENIOR COUNSEL LOK VI MING, who chairs the 50th anniversary celebrations committee.

But the weather turned bad and the boatman got impatient, which meant the client had no choice but to land on Pedra Branca. He was arrested by the guards for criminal trespass, convicted and jailed for six weeks. "I did my best and mitigated for my client," said Mr Tan.

Veteran lawyer Malathi Das recalled the seven Law Society presidents she had worked with - Mr Chandra Mohan Nair, SC George Lim, SC R. Pala Krishnan, Mrs Arfat Selvam, SC Philip Jeyaretnam, SC Michael Hwang and SC Wong Meng Meng. She noted, for instance, that the late Pala Krishnan could persuade a person "by the sheer force of his personality". "People just could not refuse Pala because no excuse would work," she said.

She added that serving under the different presidents was a study in leadership that had "a tremendous influence" over her own leadership style.

In his message in the issue, Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran flagged three critical challenges - time-based charges, technology and talent. He said: "The backward look before the forward gaze is particularly apt."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2017, with the headline 'Looking back on S'pore's law scene'. Print Edition | Subscribe