Chief District Judge, Mr Tan Siong Thye
Distinguished guests and panellists
Ladies and gentlemen
1. I thank the UK Singapore Law Students Society for putting together this forum. I understand that the audience comprises not just UK students, but also Singapore students. That is to be welcomed to get a better synergy.
Singapore’s economic outlook
2. The past few years have been a period of tumultuous change.
3. Fortunately, the situation is a little calmer for now. Our economy has rebounded. The Singapore economy grew 17.9 per cent in the first half of this year, and the outlook is for between 13 to 15 per cent growth for the whole year. This is a remarkable turn-around. But, we are a very open economy and any downturn in the world economy will be felt here quickly. And there is some uncertainty about the world economy.
4. Even as we position ourselves internationally, we hope to move into a productivity-driven era of growth. We continue to be pro-talent and pro-business. Resource-scarce as we are, we depend on investments and talent to help create jobs. We refrained from adopting knee-jerk protectionist policy changes as that would have been at the expense of our long-term competitiveness and viability. In fact, in law, in the last two years, we have been opening up and liberalising – a trend that is probably unique if you look at the circumstances.
5. Instead, we closed ranks with both unions and employers to save jobs through measures such as the Jobs Credit scheme, and demonstrated our resolve to meet the unprecedented economic downturn by using our reserves for the first time. Our commitment to our longstanding approach to economic development has assured investors.
The regional perspective
6. Taking a broader regional perspective, South-east Asia has also done relatively well. In neighbouring Malaysia, the central bank is expecting a rebound from negative growth to about six per cent this year. Indonesia, with a relatively more domestic-oriented economic structure, has been relatively unscathed by the global downturn, and is also looking at similarly rapid growth.
7. A survey of other regional countries tells the same story. Assuming that political stability and social issues can be managed between and by countries, we can expect the South-east Asian region to outperform most other economies in the short to medium-term. As ASEAN economic integration draws closer, this outlook can only become better.
8. China and India have taken giant steps toward industrialisation, and yet there is so much more potential waiting to be unleashed. Singapore sits in a region with a population of more than half a billion people, but when we consider just these two additional countries, the potential market expands to almost three billion people. More of world trade and commerce will shift eastward; so will political influence. This carries both profound implications and great promise for a country like Singapore, perched at the cross-roads between East and West, in both economic and geo-political spheres.
A young lawyer’s choices
9. Many of you will have choices to make, both in terms of career and lifestyle. I will share with you in that context, some of the more significant developments that have taken place in the legal industry in Singapore. You would then better know what you can look forward to, and make a more informed choice in what is a critical juncture in your lives.
Developments in legal services
10. First, the most important policy change that we have introduced in the last few years is the award of six Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) licences. These allow the foreign firms to practise Singapore Law.
11. Besides the QFLP scheme, we have also enhanced the existing Joint Law Venture (JLV) scheme to allow JLVs to similarly practise Singapore law. Together, these have increased the supply of legal services in Singapore, and brought greater dynamism into the Singapore legal landscape. How so?
12. Of the six QFLP firms in Singapore, four are ranked within the top 10 in the world in terms of revenue. Allowing these firms to practise Singapore law will increase demand for legal talent in Singapore. It will also give young, driven lawyers a wider range of career choices to choose from. At the same time, they will gain international exposure and first-hand experiences operating within the wider Asian region. Today, there are about 100 foreign law firms in Singapore, more than double the number just five years ago.
13. Our liberalisation of the legal industry is part of a deliberate effort by the government to develop Singapore’s financial and legal services in tandem, and to position Singapore as an integrated hub for these mutually complementary services.
14. During the recent recession, the legal sector outperformed the overall economy, posting modest growth in real terms of about 4.3 per cent even during the trough of the recession in 2009, when the economy shrunk by two per cent. In nominal terms, the value add of the industry has increased by over 50 per cent in the last five years, and currently represents about 0.6 per cent of GDP. There is much potential for continued growth in this sector.
15. One area in particular, which we are aggressively developing, is our international arbitration and alternative dispute resolution services. Singapore is uniquely positioned to serve as a neutral venue for arbitration. The government has implemented tax incentives for incremental arbitration work. We have also developed Maxwell Chambers, the world’s first integrated dispute resolution centre, housing state-of-the-art facilities with the primary objective of creating an environment that is conducive, convenient and attractive to hold arbitration hearings in. Internationally, Maxwell Chambers is probably recognised as the best facility of its kind.
16. Many renowned arbitral institutions have set up offices at Maxwell Chambers, including the Permanent Court of Arbitration, American Arbitration Association, International Court of Arbitration at the International Chamber of Commerce, World Intellectual Property Organization’s Arbitration and Mediation Centre, and the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes.
17. We hosted the Singapore International Arbitration Forum in January this year. The second forum is expected in May next year and will bring together some of the world’s most respected and influential figures in arbitration. The International Council for Commercial Arbitration (ICCA) Conference will also be held in Singapore in 2012, the first time it has been held in Asia since 2003. The ICCA is one of the most prestigious arbitration conferences in the world.
18. We have been recognised by the ICC International Court of Arbitration as the top city in Asia for ICC arbitrations. The Singapore International Arbitration Centre, which administers arbitral proceedings, has seen its caseload increase almost three-fold in the last seven to eight years to 160 cases last year, and emerged as the leading centre in Asia for international arbitrations.
19. We can successfully grow the legal services in Singapore beyond the demands of our limited domestic market, by serving clients from throughout the region and, even internationally. International arbitration will continue to be a growth area for many of the key players in our legal industry and, by extension, individual lawyers looking to make arbitration part of their practice. The hardware, like Maxwell Chambers, is of course just one part of the story. There is the software, which is Rule of Law, a clear system, a judicial philosophy that does not interfere with the arbitration proceedings, excellent logistics and a legal framework that allows any lawyer from anywhere in the world to come here for arbitration hearings and be counsel. A lot of parties with no connections to Singapore can come here to conduct arbitrations. We have a very open system and that has paid dividends.
20. To support these developments, our lawyers will have to continually stay updated with developments in both industry and in the law. Beginning in 2011, the Singapore Institute of Legal Education will administer the compulsory continuing professional development scheme, which will ensure that lawyers who hold Singapore practising certificates meet minimum professional development requirements every year.
21. Besides these developments in the legal services industry, there are also abundant opportunities, and an entirely different set of challenges, for young law professionals within the public sector, who choose to join the Legal Service.
22. Let me say upfront, that the role of legal service officers in Singapore is not an ancillary function. Whether as part of the judiciary or the executive branch of government, we see the Legal Service as a critical enabler in maintaining transparency of governance, and the rule of law in Singapore.
23. Legal Service officers play critical roles in advising the government on policies that could have far-reaching impact on Singapore society, as well as in articulating and defending Singapore’s interests overseas.
24. Many of you would be familiar with the May 2008 International Court of Justice ruling on the sovereignty of Pedra Branca, which was the culmination of over 30 years of dogged and impassioned efforts by the Attorney-General Chambers’ (AGC) officers – such as Mr Sivakant Tiwari, whose recent passing has meant the loss to Singapore of, in MM Lee’s words, “an outstanding legal public officer.” We are fortunate that there are many other lawyers who have taken up the call to serve Singapore through their work within the Legal Service.
25. We have also established a Centre for International Law at NUS. Inaugurated in October last year, the centre aims to develop expertise in public international law especially within the region, in areas of law pertaining to oceans, trade, aviation, intellectual property, ASEAN, and international dispute resolution.
26. This will give you a sense of the wide-sweeping changes that we are implementing in Singapore’s legal landscape. We hope to be the premier legal hub in the region, a place where the top lawyers from the region will come here to better their credentials, so that our universities can provide training for them. And also a place where foreign lawyers can come and mix with local lawyers for an interchange of ideas, and for us to stand pretty much as a beacon in the region, for a system that has the Rule of Law, clarity of law, and supporting a very dynamic economy.
Singapore beyond economics
27. Singapore’s transformation however, is not restricted to just the legal sector, or to economics. The recommendations of the Economic Strategies Committee released in February this year articulate a vision of Singapore as a leading global city, a home for talent and filling a niche as a lifestyle and leisure hub within Asia.
28. Those of you who have returned for the summer break will have noticed the latest addition to our skyline – the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort. Together with the redeveloped Marina Bay, and the upcoming Gardens by the Bay, people living and working in Singapore will be treated to a “necklace of attractions” around the Bay in the years ahead.
29. It is not just the infrastructure that is changing. The recently concluded Youth Olympic Games (YOG) is just the latest in a string of marquee lifestyle attractions and events to come to Singapore. These have been watershed events, not only because of what they add to living in Singapore, but also by virtue of their ability to bring Singapore to the world. In this light, the YOG has served as a platform for Singaporeans to rise and unite as proud hosts of the inaugural Games, and will contribute to the collective memories of an entire generation of Singaporeans.
30. These changes in and about Singapore have generated a healthy buzz and increased Singapore’s mindshare, globally, as a stimulating place to live, work and play. In a recently released Global Liveable Cities index, Singapore was ranked third, behind Zurich and Geneva, and according to a survey report this week by Gallup, if we threw our doors open, our population could very well triple on the backs of those who would want to immigrate.
31. These are exciting times for Singapore and for all of you. I wish you every success in your academic and professional careers, and urge you to make the most of your opportunities in the years ahead.
32. Thank you.