Retiring Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin on his career: I would not do anything differently

Justice Chao Hick Tin will be retiring as Judge of Appeal on Sept 27, 2017.
Justice Chao Hick Tin will be retiring as Judge of Appeal on Sept 27, 2017. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

If he could choose his career path again, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin said he would not have it any other way.

"If I were to start my working life all over again, I would not do anything differently," he said in a written reply to questions from The Straits Times.

"I have had an enriching and fulfilling 50 years in the public service, with many unique experiences along the way, such as being involved in the long-drawn negotiations (from 1974 to 1982) on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea."

Asked to name significant cases he has handled, Justice Chao, who has penned more than 600 judgments, said two cases came to mind, not because of the legal issues raised but because of the length of the trial and the animosity between the parties.

One was a dispute he heard in the 1990s between a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law, while the other was the divorce of a celebrity couple and the related matters.

He also cited the recent split decision in the murder case of Jabing Kho, in which a five-judge Court of Appeal ruled 3:2 that the death sentence should be imposed, as the accused had attacked the victim in a savage and brutal manner that displayed a blatant disregard for human life. Justice Chao wrote the majority decision.

Loved by lawyers for his patience and kindness, Justice Chao is known for giving lawyers a good hearing.

"As I see it, the task of the judge is to hear the parties and decide the matter fairly and impartially, having regard to the evidence before the court and the applicable law.

"I feel that the court, especially a trial court, ought to give the parties adequate time to establish their respective cases. This is not to say that the court should always indulge a party's pointless pursuit of a particular line of questioning or a particular legal point. The court must always seek to strike a balance, bearing in mind time and resource constraints," he told ST.

In his speech at his valedictory reference yesterday, Justice Chao credited this philosophy to a piece of advice that has shaped the way he has acted as a judge all these years.

"The advice was this: Let counsel develop his case; don't anticipate and be slow to stop counsel from adducing evidence. Even on a point of law which you may think you are familiar with, always listen to what counsel has to say first."

In his speech, he noted that his 50 years in public service have had their ups and downs.

"Of course, there were times when dispensing justice in a case seemed difficult or elusive. Still, as judges, we always have to do our level best."

Post-retirement, he said his immediate plan was to travel.

"I have spent a good 50 years in the public service. I only hope that I have in some small way contributed to the development of our law and our legal system," he told ST.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2017, with the headline ''I would not do anything differently''. Subscribe