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FOR the first time since the Senior Counsel scheme was introduced here 17 years ago, no one has made the cut to join the club comprising the best in the profession.
"Senior Counsel" is a sought-after title bestowed each year on lawyers with the best advocacy skills and those whose professional integrity and legal expertise make them an example to the rest of the Bar.
Chief Justice (CJ) Sundaresh Menon, speaking at the opening of Legal Year 2014 yesterday, said: "It is a privilege to be appointed as Senior Counsel, this being the highest level that a practitioner may aspire to attain."
He added that although a number of candidates were meritorious in several respects, none sufficiently met the criteria to warrant appointment.
Every year, the Senior Counsel Selection Committee of the Singapore Academy of Law which he chairs evaluates applications for appointment as Senior Counsel, and appoints those deserving of the distinction.
Special regard is given to whether the candidate has had a sufficient number of creditable appearances in the High Court and the Court of Appeal during the period under review. The committee also assesses the candidate's track record of public service through pro bono engagements, for example.
The CJ said: "I encourage the aspirants to keep these considerations in mind."
To date, 54 persons, including Mr Menon, have been selected and appointed as Senior Counsel here.
Attorney-General Steven Chong, who also delivered a speech at the event held in the Supreme Court, talked about the access to justice and the role played by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC).
Among other things, he announced a plan to give the whole public sector - not just the ministries, but the statutory boards too - quality legal representation services. To this end, the AGC will begin to take on judicial review cases against statutory boards and civil-penalty cases enforced by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).
He said: "The move to take on board judicial review cases against statutory boards will be done in three phases.
"First, we have commenced oversight of all judicial review cases, including those against statutory boards. Secondly, legislative changes will be proposed, such that legal service officers will have rights of audience in such cases. Thirdly, we will progressively proceed to handle the representation work for all such cases."
As for civil penalty cases enforced by MAS, Mr Chong said his officers have started working with the Authority in drawing up working protocols for the conduct of these cases, and are already representing it in such cases.
Law Society (Lawsoc) president Lok Vi Ming, in his speech at the event, addressed the demand and supply of legal talent.
The number of lawyers here is still going up, he noted: There were 4,549 local lawyers holding practising certificates as at last month, against 4,238 the year before. However, three in four lawyers leave the profession within the first decade of practice.
Mr Lok said: "It is difficult to discern the one predominant reason lawyers leave in huge numbers in the first decade of their practice. It may be due to the aggressiveness of practice, it may be the lure of greener pastures elsewhere, or may be a combination of both."
The Lawsoc is thinking of doing a survey to understand the concerns, hopes and aspirations of members across the profession, he said.
Mr Lok also touched on the Law Ministry's recent announcement on direct funding of cases under the Lawsoc's Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS), which provides criminal legal assistance to those who are unable to afford a lawyer.
He said: "Such funding will immediately plug some serious financial deficit faced by the Society as a result of an increased pro bono platform and allow us to roll out an enhanced scope for CLAS."
He announced that the Lawsoc will look into setting up a committee that could consider holding fund-raising activities involving all lawyers, local and foreign, in-house counsel and other members in the legal profession.
"We hope this event, if it materialises, will raise the finances which, together with the Ministry's funding, will ensure the sustainability of our pro bono programmes for the mid to long term."
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