Speech on Judicature by Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong at the Committee of Supply Debate 2023
27 FEB 2023
27 Feb 2022 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
- Madam Chairperson, as Ms Lim has noted, the tenure of Supreme Court Judges is a matter that has been discussed in this House on several occasions – back in 2014 as well, and most recently, in 2019, when we had the debate on a Bill in relation to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
- What is important is that the system must work well as a whole, and be relevant and suited to our own local context. The retirement age for Judges should not be slavishly copied from other jurisdictions, other countries. They have their own considerations. In any case, when you do a survey, there is also no fixed, uniform practice across the world: There are jurisdictions other than Singapore, where Judges also have tenure until the age of 65; and there are also jurisdictions where Judges have tenure until 70, or for life. Each jurisdiction decides what works best for their own specific outcomes, and their own local context.
- In Singapore, coming onto the Supreme Court Bench is often a second career. Most, if not all, of our Supreme Court Judges are lawyers who have distinguished themselves in private practice, public service, or academia, before accepting an appointment on to the Bench.
- From the time of appointment to the time a Judge reaches the age of 65, most Judges would have spent an average of about 15 years on the Bench.
- It is appropriate at that time, for a Judge to consider what his or her continued contributions should be, and how that is best carried out.
- Some might feel that they are able to make a valuable contribution for a while more – and if so, they can discuss a further appointment with the Chief Justice.
- Some might prefer to take a step back, and only hear cases when rostered according to their own availability – if so, an appointment as a Senior Judge may be suitable.
- Others may prefer to retire altogether and spend the next phase of their life on other endeavours.
- Ms Lim refers to this as a loss to the nation. I think this system provides for there to be flexibility to deal with a specific individual and his or her specific preferences. And I think it is in this way, that in fact, we retain the legal talent. And as I mentioned, most, if not all of the practitioners from academia, from practice, who are appointed as Supreme Court Judges, have distinguished themselves in their previous practice.
- Apart from this, the retirement age of 65, as well as the framework for re-appointment, or the appointment as Senior Judges, allows us to strike a good balance between different factors at play, including:
- Providing younger Judges with the opportunity to advance, whilst retaining the experience of the older generation; and also
- Allowing for calibrations to be made to the composition of the Bench from time to time, in consideration of whether the Bench has the right mix of different skillsets in various different legal disciplines, to meet the evolving needs of society.
- The current system, the one that we have that is practiced, takes into account all of these specific circumstances. It has worked well for us, and as I said, it gives us the flexibility and allows us to take into account the specific wishes of each of the judges when they reach the age of 65.
- Thank you, Madam.
Last updated on 27 February 2023