SINGAPORE – The judicial and legal services will be separated to reap the benefits of greater specialisation, if proposed structural changes to Singapore’s legal service are passed in Parliament.
The Government has proposed creating a separate Judicial Service, which will be overseen by a newly established Judicial Service Commission (JSC) led by the Chief Justice.
Changes have also been proposed to be made to the Legal Service, which will be overseen by a reconstituted Legal Service Commission (LSC) headed by the Attorney-General.
The proposed changes will be made through the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill and the Judicial Service (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, which were tabled in Parliament on Monday (Oct 4).
Currently, about 800 legal service officers are overseen by the LSC and can serve in either or both the judicial and legal branches over the course of their careers.
If the Bills are passed, about 220 who are currently holding judicial posts – assistant registrars in the Supreme Court and district judges and magistrates in the State Courts and Family Justice Courts – will be transferred to the new Judicial Service as judicial service officers.
The Legal Service will comprise about 580 legal service officers holding non-judicial posts such as prosecutors, law drafters, and government legal advisers in the Attorney-General’s Chambers, and other legal roles in government agencies.
“These structural changes aim to put both services on a better footing for the future, by allowing them to reap the benefits of greater specialisation,” the Law Ministry said in a statement on Monday.
“With greater flexibility to adapt their personnel management frameworks to their respective needs and circumstances, the two services will be better positioned to meet the growing demands of an increasingly complex and rapidly evolving legal landscape.”
The ministry added that taking this step now, when the system is stable and working well, provides space to make refinements, if needed, after the restructuring is implemented.
Legal service officers have been deployed across the Government, serving in both the judicial and legal branches.
The ministry said this enabled the officers to gain experience and build the necessary expertise to meet the diverse needs of the Government, and played a crucial role in cementing Singapore’s reputation for an effective legal system and world-class judiciary.
In recent years, the Legal Service has grown significantly as public sector legal work became increasingly complex.
In 2014, steps were taken to increase specialisation.
Separate judicial and legal career tracks were set up for officers in the middle ranks, while personnel boards were reorganised, with one for each branch.
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In July this year, Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) filed an adjournment motion in Parliament, calling on the Government to study the feasibility of setting up a separate commission for the development of judicial officers.
Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam noted then that it was not the first time this issue had been raised, and added that the benefits of greater specialisation would likely increase, and trade-offs reduced, as the Legal Service continues growing.
He announced then that a working group had been set up to study the issues that may arise.
On Monday, the Law Ministry said the Government has decided to proceed with the proposed restructuring.
Mr Shanmugam said the decision was taken after discussions with the Chief Justice and the Attorney-General, as well as consideration of the pros and cons of specialisation, the current size of the Legal Service, and the findings of the working group.
The chairman of the Public Service Commission (PSC) will be vice-president of the JSC and the LSC.
Secondments will be available on application, to provide selected officers with experience across both services. Permanent transfers will also be available, subject to prevailing personnel rules.
When asked if it was possible that the LSC might be drawn closer to the PSC, Mr Shanmugam said that was not an option on the table.
“It is fundamental to the constitutional framework that the Legal Service Commission remains independent from the Public Service Commission. This safeguards the integrity of the Legal Service, and the ability of its officers to discharge their functions independently,” he said.
The proposed changes were welcomed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Attorney-General Lucien Wong.
Chief Justice Menon said the Government’s decision was a recognition of the call for greater specialisation in a more complex and rapidly evolving legal landscape.
“The separation of the judicial and legal services will enable us to develop personnel management frameworks and specialist training and professional development opportunities that will better meet the particular needs of public sector legal officers,” he said.
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The Attorney-General said: “As our country matures, this is a necessary step in the evolution of our legal framework.”
Mr Wong added: “We will continue to appoint and develop legal officers of the highest calibre, with the specialist expertise and skills necessary to tackle the complex challenges we are facing.”
The two Bills will be read a second time in November. If passed, the changes are expected to be implemented in January next year.