Parliament: Shanmugam, Sylvia Lim clash over age of incoming Attorney-General

Law Minister K. Shanmugam and Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim.
Law Minister K. Shanmugam and Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER / ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Law Minister K. Shanmugam and Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim clashed in Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 10) over whether the incoming Attorney-General is older than the Constitution allows for.

Top corporate lawyer Lucien Wong, 63, will succeed outgoing Attorney-General V.K. Rajah on Saturday (Jan 14), the day that Mr Rajah turns 60.

Ms Lim, who is 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 appointing of an Attorney-General.

It states that the Attorney-General, barring certain circumstances, shall otherwise hold office until he turns 60 years old.

The law also states that an Attorney-General who is 60 and older can be permitted to remain in office for a period agreed upon by the Government and the Attorney-General.

Mr Shanmugan, speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, replied: "The appointment of the new Attorney-General is in accordance with Article 35 of the Constitution."

But Ms Lim disagreed with the reading, saying that the law "does not seem to contemplate the appointment of a new Attorney-General who is more than 60 years old to assume the post".

The minister replied that this would be quite an inaccurate reading of the law.

He said there were two ways to appoint an Attorney-General. The first is to appoint an Attorney-General without a specific term, which can only be done if the candidate is younger than 60. This appointment ends when the Attorney-General turns 60.

The second way is to appoint an Attorney-General 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 Shanmugam also cited examples of previous attorneys-general such as the current Justice of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, who was above the age of 60 when he was first appointed to the post.

Justice Chao was 63 when he was appointed for a term of two years and 65 when he left office.

Said Mr Shanmugam: "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 should 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."