Obituary: Chiam Boon Keng

Law stalwart set bar for public service efficiency

Retired Supreme Court registrar Chiam Boon Keng died on Sunday and many members of the Bar turned up at his wake.
Retired Supreme Court registrar Chiam Boon Keng died on Sunday and many members of the Bar turned up at his wake.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

He helped start e-filing system, cut backlog of cases when he was Supreme Court registrar

Retired Supreme Court registrar Chiam Boon Keng, who helped kick-start the court's electronic-filing system and cut the case backlog under the leadership of then Chief Justice Yong Pung How, died this week. He was 82.

A career officer who joined the legal service in 1969, he served in various positions in the State Courts, Attorney-General's Chambers and the Law Ministry, among others, before he was named registrar of the Supreme Court in 1992.

He remained there until he retired in December 2003.

His efforts and contributions earned him Public Administration medals - the PPA (Gold) in 1994 and the PPA (Gold) (Bar) in 2003 - at the National Day Awards.

Several members of the Bar contacted by The Straits Times after his death on Sunday paid tribute to Mr Chiam. Many turned up at his wake in Bukit Purmei.

Leading the tributes, current Supreme Court registrar Teh Hwee Hwee said he played a key role as registrar "in driving reforms which significantly enhanced efficiency in the administration of justice".

She said: "Back in the 1990s, while many memos were still being sent in hard copy, he was already leading us to be one of the first movers in adopting an electronic system for the filing of court papers.

"Those who have had the privilege of working with Mr Chiam will remember not only his dedication to public service but also his kindness and generosity."

Law Society president Gregory Vijeyandran said Mr Chiam "set the gold bar for efficiency and effectiveness in public administration". "That will continue to be the lasting legacy of this legend in the law."

Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, whose first boss was Mr Chiam when he started in the legal service in 1985, said: "He was always a man with a good heart to whom you could appeal."

Lawyer Peter Ong fondly recalled Mr Chiam as the "unless/order judge", explaining that he set timelines for submissions, which, if not met, would lead to the case being dismissed, struck off, or a judgment entered against you. "He drove us to work hard yet was a caring, compassionate man," he added.

A bachelor and the third oldest of 11 siblings, he worked as a teacher for eight years and funded his own higher education. His funeral took place on Wednesday.

"He was a blessing to us all," said his younger sister, Ms Maria Chiam.

•Additional reporting by Salome Ong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2019, with the headline 'Law stalwart set bar for public service efficiency'. Print Edition | Subscribe