Response Speech by Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong at the Committee of Supply Debate 2020 (Attorney General's Chambers)
28 Feb 2020 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
Mr Speaker, Ms Sylvia Lim spoke about de-coupling the dual roles of the Attorney-General as Public Prosecutor and chief legal advisor, and granting security of tenure to the Public Prosecutor, to further strengthen the system.
I understand the thrust of Ms Lim’s speech. The Government fully agrees that public confidence is important. And because of the way we have built up our institutions, public confidence in our institutions is high. Our institutions work well. Survey statistics referred to during the 2016 Committee of Supply debates showed that public confidence in the legal system is high:
- 92% said they had trust and confidence in Singapore’s legal system, and that the legal system is fair and efficient
- 96% agreed that Singapore is governed by the rule of law
- The same survey also revealed that 90% said they had trust and confidence in the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
- The public’s confidence in the Attorney-General’s Chambers did not develop by chance. It is the result of prudent legal safeguards, as well as the integrity of those in the system.
- First, the Constitution has robust safeguards to protect the Attorney-General’s independent exercise of prosecutorial discretion. It provides that the Attorney-General has the discretion “to institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings for any offence”.
- Second, we have a dual-key system for the appointment of the Attorney-General. Both the President and the Prime Minister must agree. The Presidential veto contributes to a more robust system compared to other major common law jurisdictions such as England and Wales, Australia, and New Zealand, where the officers in charge of prosecutions are appointed solely by a government Minister.
- In Singapore, the Attorney-General does not hold a political office. This reinforces the independence of the Attorney-General, and is unlike jurisdictions such as England and Wales, Canada, Australia and New Zealand where the Attorney-General holds a political office and is subject to political pressures. Separation of the role of the Attorney-General from that of the Public Prosecutor in these jurisdictions is therefore necessary to ensure the independent exercise of prosecutorial discretion. The Constitutional safeguards in Singapore ensure that the Attorney-General is protected from such pressures and allows him to discharge both his roles as Public Prosecutor and as the Government’s legal advisor without fear or favour.
- Ms Lim suggested that the Public Prosecutor should have security of tenure. If you look at the other mature common law jurisdictions, the officers in charge of prosecutions in England and Wales, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong do not have security of tenure and typically serve pre-determined renewable terms.
- What is more important is that it is very difficult to remove the Attorney-General in Singapore. The President, Prime Minister and a tribunal of 3 Judges, including the Chief Justice, must all agree that the Attorney-General is unable to discharge his functions, or there has been misbehaviour. In some of the other mentioned jurisdictions, the requirements for removal are considerably less stringent.
- These safeguards are important. But they alone cannot maintain public trust. The Attorney-General’s actions are also important. Attorney-General Lucien Wong recently said that the Attorney-General’s independence “is enshrined in the Constitution and is an established rule of practice within Chambers” (Singapore Law Review Lecture 2017). The Attorney-General has also not shied away from prosecuting individuals who may be well-connected or hold high positions. Some examples are as follows:
- A Minister of State
- Sitting and former Members of Parliament
- The then SCDF Commissioner
- The then NKF CEO
- The then PUB Deputy Chief Executive
- The public trust the Attorney-General and the broader legal system because we appoint individuals of the highest calibre and integrity, who exercise their discretion independently. The high levels of public trust in our legal system, and the Attorney-General’s Chambers, speak for themselves.
- I take this opportunity to reaffirm the Government’s fundamental commitment to, and respect for, the Attorney-General’s independent exercise of prosecutorial discretion, which is essential to a society governed by the rule of law.
Last updated on 28 Feb 2020