Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, at the Second Reading of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill (Bill No. 29/2021) and the Judicial Service (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill (Bill No. 30/2021)
Sir, the Bills propose to establish a Judicial Service Commission (JSC), separate from the Legal Service Commission (LSC).
The restructuring will allow both the LSC and JSC to benefit from greater specialisation and flexibility. This is needed to tackle the increasing complexity of the legal landscape.
Our legal system and judiciary are greatly respected for impartially and efficiently dispensing justice. The amendments will help us to maintain the good standing of our legal system.
I have three points of clarification to make.
Independence of LSC, PSC, and JSC
My first point is on the independence of the Legal Service Commission, the Public Service Commission, and the Judicial Service Commission.
The public places great trust in our institutions. Results released in March this year from an IPS study showed that 81% of the public had a great deal or quite a lot of trust in the government, 82% said this of the Courts, and 80% said this of the civil service.
In the 2020 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index measuring the rule of law in countries, Singapore was placed 12 out of 128 countries. The Rule of Law index looks at among other things, accountability and open government.
In the 2019 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, Singapore was ranked 14 out of 141 countries for judicial independence.
It is very commendable that we have such high levels of trust locally and internationally in our public institutions. We should work hard to maintain this.
My clarification is on how we can safeguard the good reputation of our public institutions by ensuring independence of the judiciary, legal service, and public service.
There are some concerns that the proposed Articles may mean some overlap among the Commissions for the LSC, PSC, and JSC.
For example, the Chairman of the PSC will be the Vice-President of both the LSC and JSC.
The PSC will also advise the President on the appointment of up to two members each on the LSC and JSC.
It would be good if the Minister can share the safeguards in place to ensure the public can continue to have high confidence in the independence of the LSC, PSC, and JSC.
Specialisation and diversity of JSC
My second point is on recruiting a wider range of talents from beyond the existing legal service into the JSC.
In July this year, my colleague Mr. Murali Pillai delivered an adjournment motion with Mr. Christopher De Souza and Mr. Lim Biow Chuan on the feasibility of setting up the JSC for judicial officers.
In his motion speech, Mr. Pillai spoke about the flexibility the JSC may have in recruiting a wider range of talents. He gave the example of how someone with experience in programming who is taught law may be able to navigate the technical facts of a case much better than a legally trained Judge. I echo these sentiments.
Additionally, the three members spoke on the benefits of the movement of judicial officers and legal service officers across judicial and legal service branches.
Such rotations are beneficial for the officers and the respective branches. That said, I think we can all agree that it is important for the judicial service to be staffed by officers from a diversity of backgrounds beyond the legal service.
Recruiting talent from diverse backgrounds will help with responding to increasingly complex and specialised cases before the Courts and also for maintaining trust in the judiciary’s independence.
Can Minister share the plans to diversify the talent pool of judicial officers within the JSC?
Tenure of members of the LSC and JSC
Lastly, under the new Article 111D, an appointed member to the JSC may hold office of 3 to 5 years and is eligible for reappointment.
Under the new Article 111L, an appointed member to the LSC may hold office of 3 to 5 years and is eligible for reappointment.
Both Articles do not set out any limits for such reappointment.
Limits on reappointment are not uncommon in private and public institutions. Such limits steer institutions towards leadership renewal and organisational change.
Can Minister confirm whether there are limits on the reappointment of any member to the LSC and JSC?
If not, can Minister share the rationale for not limiting the number of reappointments that a member can hold on the LSC and JSC?
Notwithstanding these clarifications, I stand in support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here.