Govt prepared to consider restructuring legal service to allow greater specialisation: Shanmugam

A working group has been set up to study issues that arise, should any restructuring proceed.
A working group has been set up to study issues that arise, should any restructuring proceed.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Singapore's legal service, which administers justice and upholds the rule of law, may be restructured to allow greater specialisation in judicial and legal branches if a suitable model can be found.

Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said this model would have to be able to reap the benefits of specialisation, while addressing the fundamental challenge of a limited talent pool.

Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok), Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) and Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) had spoken about the need to consider whether it would be feasible to set up a separate judicial service commission that would be in a better position to nurture specialist judicial officers.

Judicial officers include district judges and magistrates from the State Courts and Family Justice Courts as well as registrars from the Supreme Court who administer justice.

Mr Shanmugam said that an integrated model where officers are actively deployed to both the judicial and legal branches, has better met Singapore's needs so far.

The judicial branch comprises the courts, while the legal branch entails the Attorney-General's Chambers and the legal service departments in ministries and other public institutions and statutory boards.

"We share common ground, in that the benefits of specialisation are likely to continue to grow in future, with smaller trade-offs as the legal service continues growing," Mr Shanmugam said.

"But the fundamental challenge of a limited talent pool remains," he added, noting that Singapore had fewer than 6,000 legal practitioners last year, which constituted 0.1 per cent of the population.

Mr Shanmugam listed out the benefits of both models.

He said a specialist model accounts for the widening spread of competencies needed in the legal and judicial branches. Officers will have more time to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to operate in increasingly complex environments.

This model would also entail that each service have the agility to develop human resource frameworks and talent development programmes that are targeted to their needs.

On the other hand, an integrated model where officers rotate between branches provides the opportunity for a varied career and helps the legal service attract talent, said Mr Shanmugam.

He added that for legal service officers assuming senior leadership positions later on, rotations give them a broader organisational perspective. An integrated model also makes it easier to meet manpower needs, where more specialised capabilities are not required.

"I would say there are pros and cons either way; the challenge is to find the right balance for our circumstances and needs," said Mr Shanmugam.

A working group has been set up to study issues that arise, should any restructuring proceed.

The working group is co-chaired by the Attorney-General and Senior Judge Chao Hick Tin, and comprises senior representatives from the Supreme Court, Attorney General's Chambers, Legal Service Commission Secretariat, Ministry of Law, and the Public Service Division.

"The Government will consider the findings of the working group, and we'll make a further announcement in due course," said Mr Shanmugam.