THE Singapore legal sector's guiding principle is to serve the people and it must also remain open to the region and the global community if it is to build a world-class legal infrastructure.
These are the two principles Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said Singapore has to bear in mind as it continues to build on the existing foundation of the legal profession.
Speaking at the opening of the legal year, CJ Menon said on the international front, explosive growth in commercial activity in Asia is inevitably accompanied by an increase in commercial disputes.
So, the establishment of the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) will complement the arbitration sector and also grow the Republic's legal sector and "might even expand the scope for internationalising Singapore law", he said.
To this end, CJ Menon on Monday unveiled SICC's first batch of 11 international judges, who come from Australia, Austria, France, Hong Kong, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
To promote transnational convergence of commercial laws in Asia, a committee has been set up under the Singapore Academy of Law (SAL) to examine ways in which this can be done.
CJ Menon said he is looking to establish a permanent institute to fortify such efforts through the development of research capabilities. The institute will gather judges, academics, legal practitioners, in-house lawyers and legal think-tanks from the region and beyond to work on the incubation of Asian business law.
On the domestic front, the Family Justice Courts comprising the new Family Division of the High Court, the Family Courts as well as the Youth Courts will take over probate jurisdiction in January.
This year, the State Courts will explore two further avenues to enhance access to criminal justice. They are: enhancing case management and minimising pre-trial delay, and providing legal assistance to accused litigants-in-person before the matter reaches court.
In the area of civil justice, a Civil Justice Commission chaired by Justice Tay Yong Kwang will look at refining the litigation process to reduce costs, enhance efficiency, and effect modernisation. This commission will undertake a two to three year study to examine issues including the simplification of the rules of court, and the avoidance of outdated language while preserving established legal concepts.
To pull together the various judicial education programmes, CJ Menon officially launched the Singapore Judicial College, headed by the outgoing registrar of the Supreme Court, Foo Chee Hock.
District Judge Tan Boon Heng will be the college's executive director in charge of daily operations.
A key feature of the college is the empirical judicial research laboratory, which will serve as a test bed for innovation in judicial studies, practices and policies. It will allow new or existing practices in courts to be tested and to have the premises or assumptions that underlie them validated, said CJ Menon.
In his speech, the Chief Justice thanked the pioneers for laying the "superb foundations" and urged the legal profession to build upon them.
Pointing out that the legal profession must not forget its past, he said it must approach the future with a deft balance and aspire to play a regional or international role while pursuing excellence on the domestic front.
"If we are to advance, we will have to break new ground, or, in the Singapore tradition, reclaim solid earth from the legal sea."