Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launches new E W Barker Centre for Law and Business at NUS

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong receiving the book EW Barker: The People's Minister from E W Barker's wife, Mrs Gloria Barker, after the official launch of the EW Barker Centre for Law and Business on May 29, 2017.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong receiving the book EW Barker: The People's Minister from E W Barker's wife, Mrs Gloria Barker, after the official launch of the EW Barker Centre for Law and Business on May 29, 2017. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - To maintain its competitive edge, Singapore needs to keep its law and lawyers up to date, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday (May 29).

It has so far distinguished itself from rivals because its legal system is respected and admired at home and abroad, Mr Lee noted.

But Singapore's laws cannot be static because globalisation and technology are changing how business is done, he said at the launch of the E W Barker Centre for Law and Business.

"Up to date, effective but not onerous regulation has become a new source of economic competitiveness," he told about 100 members of the legal fraternity.

The centre, known previously as the Centre for Law and Business, is under the National University of Singapore's law faculty. It was set up in 2014.

On Monday, it was renamed after Singapore's first law minister E W Barker, who held the portfolio from 1964 to 1988.

The event also marked the 60th anniversary of the NUS law faculty.

In his speech, Mr Lee cited e-commerce, which crosses national boundaries and requires sound frameworks for enforcement and taxation.

Clear rules and effective safeguards are needed in other areas, such as cybersecurity and intellectual property protection.

Also, emerging technology like artificial intelligence will need innovative regulation, added Mr Lee.

Think tanks like the E W Barker Centre can play a role in researching, organising conferences and teaching, Mr Lee said.

Its outcomes should also be practical and and grounded in reality, to improve the lives of Singaporeans and foster Singapore's development.

He also called on the centre to work with businesses, policymakers, legal practitioners here and in the region to produce fresh ideas and policy recommendations as well as keep abreast of legal developments.

Through this, Singapore can continue to be a preferred location for businesses in Asia, he said.

Mr Lee also urged the centre to learn from Mr Barker, saying: "By combining legal know-how with political instincts and a human touch, Mr Barker came up with practical solutions and contributed to creating and building a prosperous Singapore."

He cited Singapore's "Stop at Two'' population policy introduced in the 1960s to illustrate that Mr Barker was not just a legal eagle but had a keen practical and political sense

Some ministers wanted to pass a law to implement it, Mr Lee said.

Mr Barker advised against it and suggested giving families incentives to stop at two children.

" That was the wiser approach," Mr Lee said.

Mr Lee also paid tribute to Mr Barker's contributions in establishing the rule of law in Singapore.

The late minister drafted documents that were the legal basis of Singapore's independence: the Separation Agreement, the Amendment Bill for Malaysia's Constitution, and the Proclamation of Singapore.

Later, he also oversaw key pieces of law including the Constitution and Land Acquisition Act.

Mr Barker's wife Gloria and his children were present at the event.

Eleven donors raised $21 million,including the Government's matching fund, to set up an endowment fund to support the centre.

Mr Lee also launched the E W Barker Bursary to help needy law undergraduates at NUS.

The bursary is supported by an endowment fund of more than $300,000, an amount which was raised by five donors from the legal fraternity and matched by the Government.

Initially, up to two bursaries of $6,000 each will be given each year.

Mr Barker's daughter Deborah, a managing partner at Withers KhattarWong and an NUS alumni, said helping the young and those in need was close to her father's heart.

Citing a speech her father gave in 1967, she too encouraged the centre to "express the social, political and economic realities that we face today globally and help to develop solutions that are practical and reasonable".