Exchange over A-G's appointment age

Incoming attorney-general Lucien Wong (left), 63, will succeed outgoing A-G V.K. Rajah on Saturday.
Incoming attorney-general Lucien Wong (above), 63, will succeed outgoing A-G V.K. Rajah on Saturday.PHOTO COURTESY OF LUCIEN WONG

The age of the incoming attorney- general (A-G) came up for debate in Parliament yesterday.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam and Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim disagreed over whether there is an age limit for the A-G in the Constitution.

Top corporate lawyer Lucien Wong, 63, will succeed outgoing Attorney-General V.K. Rajah on Saturday, the day Mr Rajah turns 60.

Ms Lim, an MP for Aljunied GRC and a lawyer, asked if Mr Wong's appointment was in line with Article 35(4) of the Constitution, which governs the appointment of an A-G.

Replying, Mr Shanmugam, speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said: "The appointment of the new attorney-general is in accordance with Article 35 of the Constitution."

The law states that the A-G may be appointed for a specific period and if so appointed, shall vacate his office at the end of that period.

Otherwise, he shall hold office until he turns 60.

Among other things, the law also states that an A-G who has turned 60 can be permitted to remain in office for a period agreed on by the Government and the A-G.

Ms Lim, in disagreeing with Mr Shanmugam, said the law "does not seem to contemplate the appointment of a new A-G who is more than 60 years old to assume the post".

The minister said that would be quite an inaccurate reading of the law. He added that there are two ways to appoint an A-G. The first is to appoint an A-G without a specific term, which can be done only if the candidate is younger than 60. The appointment ends when the A-G turns 60 - as in Mr Rajah's case.

The second way is to appoint an A-G for a specified term, regardless of his age. This appointment ends when the term ends, and the term can be extended by the Government.

Mr Wong's appointment is for three years. He was chairman and senior partner of Singapore's largest law firm, Allen & Gledhill.

Mr Shanmugam also cited previous attorneys-general such as Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, who was older than 60 when he was appointed to the post. Justice Chao was 63 when he was appointed for a two-year term, and 65 when he left office.

Mr Shanmugam said: "All these appointments were in accordance with the Constitution, and the interpretation I put forward... is something we have confirmed with the Attorney-General's Chambers."

Ms Lim suggested that the Government apply to court to clarify the matter. Mr Shanmugam replied: "That is quite ridiculous. The Government has taken advice, I am satisfied, anybody who reads it will be satisfied. If the Member feels that there is something wrong, I would leave it to the Member to apply."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2017, with the headline 'Exchange over A-G's appointment age'. Print Edition | Subscribe