Sep 2, 2007

The Choice Between Thinking Small or Going Global

ST Sep 2, 2007
Write on local law, CJ tells academics
He points to tension between need to write on S'pore law and need to write for world renown
By Melissa Sim

LAW academics in Singapore are writing more about foreign law than Singapore law and this may not be a desirable situation, said Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong yesterday.

Speaking at the 50th anniversary gala dinner of the law faculty of the National University of Singapore, he said Supreme Court judges have referred to, and adopted, academic writings in their judgments, especially on difficult points of law.

But there is a 'current tension between the need for academics to write on Singapore law for local consumption and the need to write for international recognition', he said.

A study of The Malaya Law Review and the Singapore Journal Of Legal Studies has shown that from 1959 to 1979, the number of articles on foreign law exceeded those on local law. For the next 20 years - from 1980 to 1999 - the trend was reversed. However, since 2000, the situation has reverted to show a bias in favour of foreign legal developments.

The CJ said that law academics must write on and about Singapore law because the NUS law faculty is a national law school with a mission to produce graduates for national needs. 'If they wish to influence the judiciary in the development of our law and legal system, they must generate the arguments and the ideas for us.'

He said it was necessary to 'strike a proper balance between personal and national interests'.

You might not be able to tell from the above article. But there's a fairly sharp conflict of philosophies here between the Chief Justice and the NUS Law Faculty.

For quite a number of years now, NUS law dean Tan Cheng Han has been pushing hard to put a much more international perspective into legal education in NUS. He wants law students to have a better understanding of the legal systems in other countries, believing that this is more in line with commercial realities in a globalised economy.

The Chief Justice, however, wants legal academics to focus on more-local issues. He would like them to analyse issues and problems in Singapore's legal system, and thereby build a body of legal literature to help Singapore's judges in their legal work. The Chief Justice also says that NUS is a "national law school with a mission to produce graduates for national needs".

I am with Tan Cheng Han on this issue. In my opinion, the kind of lawyers which Singapore's economy needs most badly are those who have knowledge and/or experience with international transactions and cross-border deals. This necessarily means that these lawyers need some degree of familarity with other legal systems, such as those of China, India and South Korea. If they can get some exposure during their law school days, so much the better.

It follows that law students who spend more time in school studying foreign / international law would spend less time studying Singapore law. I suppose a balance has to be struck somewhere, but frankly it's not such a big deal if you only knew a little about Singapore law. You'll get a sense of why, if you read this old post where I wrote about my previous legal job.

4 comments:

BACTS said...

"Singapore's economy needs most badly are those who have knowledge and/or experience with international transactions and cross-border deals... ...some degree of familarity with other legal systems, such as those of China, India and South Korea." I agreed on this point too. Chinese said 知己知彼, 百战百胜. To be efficient in international dealing, it is alway good to know more. But isn't it possible CJ have realise that too little acticle is seen on local law and wanted to stop the trend from going on, before situation become unbalance, or ... infavorable to ... the singapore law society.

Anonymous said...

I have a feeling SMU will soon have a news release on how well they are concentrating on local Law and expecting their Law grads to find better acceptence into the bar. Knowing full well, it is almost impossible for NUS to issue any contrary statements towards CJ's words, hence going one up against NUS.

Sigh. And we want a 4th Uni. What kind of maverick marketing will we get?

Anonymous said...

It all boils down to a matter of perspective, me thinks.

When one sees oneself as a small boat sailing the sea, knowing the sea becomes more important.

When one sees the boat and not the sea, knowing the boat becomes more important.

Mr Wang Says So said...

La Nausee has an opinion on this matter.