Introduce more pathways to Singapore Bar to spur mid-career switches: Chief Justice

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon at the opening ceremony for the new legal year on Jan 6, 2020. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - It may be "valuable" to introduce more pathways that lead to admission to the Singapore Bar, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said on Monday (Jan 6).

This will encourage individuals with complementary backgrounds and skill sets, such as those from the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) fields, to join and strengthen the legal service sector, he added.

In his speech at the opening ceremony for the new legal year, Chief Justice Menon suggested that local law schools consider offering such pathways through their courses and degrees.

Apart from direct undergraduate law degrees, mid-career individuals with non-law backgrounds may be permitted to enter the legal profession via these pathways.

One example he offered was a new four-year degree comprising two years of core legal education, a year of professional training and a final year of study in a complementary discipline such as business, accounting or computer science.

The Chief Justice also proposed that all pathways could be "capped" by a common Bar examination, in order to maintain the required standards of the legal profession.

These proposals are part of Chief Justice Menon's ideas to reform the current system of legal education and training to ensure that it remains capable of "moulding the lawyers we need".

His ideas are based on his interactions with more than 160 stakeholders across 16 focus groups in the legal industry concerning the future of the legal profession.

He also suggested that a steering forum for legal education and training be formed to consult decision-makers in key constituencies of the legal industry, such as universities, the ministries of law and education as well as the judiciary.

"This forum can then identify strategic objectives and areas of reform, and guide the evolution of our system of legal education and training," he said.

Other suggestions by Chief Justice Menon included redesigning the current Continuing Professional Development programme for qualified legal professionals, and reviewing the undergraduate law syllabus in order to enhance the teaching of practical skills.

He said these proposals are expected to be explored further in the coming year.

Professor Simon Chesterman, dean of the National University of Singapore's Faculty of Law, welcomed Chief Justice Menon's ideas in reforming the legal education system.

"Upheavals in the practice of law require a radical rethink of the purpose, content, method and funding of legal education and training," he said.

"We look forward to working with the Chief Justice, the Ministry of Law, our many alumni and other stakeholders to keep Singapore at the forefront of legal education and training - an essential part of our reputation as a global legal hub."

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