Retired judge Richard Magnus dies

Mr Richard Magnus spent more than 50 years in public service. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Public Transport Council (PTC) chairman and former senior district judge Richard Magnus died of a heart attack on Monday (March 14).

He was 77.

He is survived by his wife, Eileen, their two children and three grandchildren.

His son, Mr Keith Magnus, told The Straits Times: "Our family grieves for the loss of a loving husband, wonderful father and devoted grandfather.

"He lived his life with integrity, purpose, dignity, service, honour and the highest set of moral values. He was a good friend to many from all stations of life and a loyal servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom he loved and has now been reunited with."

Mr Richard Magnus, who spent 50 years in public service, continued to hold leadership roles in public service after retiring from the judiciary in 2008.

Besides chairing the PTC, he was the founding chairman of Temasek Foundation Cares, and deputy chairman of Temasek Foundation.

In a post on Facebook, President Halimah Yacob, who conferred the Distinguished Service Order to Mr Magnus last year, paid tribute to him for dedicating his life to public service.

As chairman of Human Capital Singapore, he had also been very supportive of efforts to promote inclusive hiring for persons with disabilities, said Madam Halimah.

"His passing is a profound loss to us all," she added.

In a statement, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon noted that Mr Magnus, who spent 16 years at the Subordinate Courts, had worked especially closely with then Chief Justice Yong Pung How to implement reforms to modernise court processes.

"He has served Singapore with honour and distinction in various strategic roles and will be dearly missed," said CJ Menon.

Born the 10th of 13 children in Perak in Malaysia, Mr Magnus studied law at the University of Singapore.

In an interview with The Straits Times in 2019, he said: "I've always wanted to do something which was useful to society."

SPH Brightcove Video
A man of many hats, Mr Richard Magnus talks about his roles as Chairman of Temasek Foundation Cares and the Public Transport Council.

He started as a legal officer during Singapore's early days of independence, then moved to the judiciary and rose to become the top judge at the Subordinate Courts, now known as the State Courts.

He played a key role in clearing the heavy backlog of cases there, and presided over several high-profile cases.

They included the 1995 case of Barings trader Nick Leeson, whom he jailed six-and-a-half years for fraud and forgery.

Mr Magnus has headed committees of inquiry over the years, such as the Sembawang Shipyard fire in 1992, the collapse of part of Nicoll Highway in 2004, and the SingHealth data breach in 2018.

After retiring from the bench in 2008, he went on to other high-profile roles.

Minister for Transport S. Iswaran said that as chairman of the PTC since 2014, Mr Magnus' hard work was "vital to preserving the delicate but essential balance between quality, affordability and financial sustainability".

He added that Mr Magnus often went above and beyond the call of duty, such as when he chaired the inquiry into the data breach.

Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan called Mr Magnus a "wonderful upright gentleman who epitomised justice, integrity, compassion, humility and service to his nation".

He recalled working with him at the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports in crafting legislation that would ultimately become the Mental Capacity Act.

Former judicial officers remembered Mr Magnus as a caring boss who was always thinking of ways to improve the courts.

Criminal lawyer Lee Teck Leng, who was a judicial officer from 1991 to 1996, found him to be a patient person who genuinely cared about the courts and the officers.

Mr Lee recalled: "One day in 1994, he showed me an article which showcased how California courts reduce their hearing caseload by allowing less serious traffic cases to be settled at a machine. He asked me to look into it as I was the Traffic Court judge then."

That project became the Automated Traffic Offence Management System, or Atoms, which is still available at AXS payment kiosks today.

Litigator Eric Tin, a judicial officer from 1996 to 2005, said: "I remember him as a kind and nurturing mentor who was generous to share his insights, knowledge and experience with me."

    High-profile court cases

    1992: Presided over the trial of three people from Calvary Charismatic Centre charged with conspiring to cheat Hong Leong Finance over the hire-purchase financing of US$66,937 (S$143,500 at the time) worth of audio and musical equipment. The church's former senior pastor and former financial controller were given a day's jail and fined, while an administrative assistant was acquitted.

    1994: Convicted five men charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act and fined them between $1,500 and $6,000 each. The charges stemmed from a Business Times report which cited the official flash estimate of economic growth in the second quarter of 1992 before such information had been officially released.

    1995: Sentenced former Barings trader Nick Leeson, whose huge trading losses sank Britain's oldest merchant bank, to 6 1/2 years' jail. The Briton had pleaded guilty to two cheating charges.

    2003: Sentenced a woman to 12 years' jail for helping her British boss dispose of the bodies of two people he had murdered at Orchard Towers.

    Key appointments

    1992: Senior District Judge

    2008: Founding chairman of the Casino Regulatory Authority

    2009: Founding chairman of the Political Films Consultative Committee; Singapore's inaugural representative to the Asean Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights; founding chairman of Temasek Foundation Cares

    2014: Chairman of Public Transport Council

    2021: Singapore non-resident Ambassador to Finland

    Temasek Foundation to widow: He spent lifetime serving others

    In a lifetime spent in the service of others, Mr Richard Magnus made a lasting difference in improving the lives of the vulnerable, especially children.

    Temasek Foundation expressed its condolences in a letter addressed to his wife and two children on Monday.

    In the letter, Temasek Foundation chairman Benny Lim said Mr Magnus had championed new social models of care, impacting the quality of life of those in need and their caregivers.

    “He personally lobbied and tirelessly galvanised many public agencies to work together to test-bed new care models which address emerging and latent needs,” wrote Mr Lim.

      The letter added that Mr Magnus had a personal interest in helping vulnerable children, and had spearheaded a programme to train therapists to handle child trauma so that vulnerable children are provided with timely and appropriate care.

      He also secured support from the Temasek Emergency Preparedness Fund to develop the concept of emergency preparedness under the Stay Prepared initiative.

      Several programmes were launched under this initiative to prepare and build the resilience of Singaporeans and proved to be invaluable during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

      Mr Magnus had spent more than 50 years in public service.

      “Richard spent a lifetime in the service of others,” wrote Mr Lim. “He did so always with integrity, honour, fair-mindedness and compassion.

      “We in Temasek Foundation are privileged to have known him as a friend and to have enjoyed his passion and benefited from his leadership in the pursuit of the common cause to do good for all.”

      • Additional reporting by David Sun

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