Second Reading Speech by Law Minister K Shanmugam on the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill
14 Feb 2011 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
Sir, this Bill contains amendments to the Legal Profession Act and the Singapore Academy of Law Act necessary for the establishment of the Singapore Institute of Legal Education, and an examination to qualify foreign lawyers to practise limited areas of Singapore law. The Bill also contains amendments to streamline and improve the current framework for admission to the Singapore Bar. There are miscellaneous and technical amendments to enhance various procedures, clarify the meaning and application of various provisions, and repeal outdated provisions.
Clause 4 introduces a new Part II to the Act, to dissolve the Board of Legal Education and to establish the successor Singapore Institute of Legal Education, or SILE for short. The SILE will come under the governance of the Singapore Academy of Law. Its Board of Directors will comprise representatives of key stakeholders in the legal fraternity including the Attorney-General, the President of the Law Society and the Deans of the NUS and SMU law schools.
The SILE will assume the functions currently performed by the Board of Legal Education. In addition, the SILE will also exercise the following functions.
First, our legal services sector is growing quite rapidly. There is a need to ensure that training of lawyers in Singapore is of a high standard. SILE will take on the role of overseeing and ensuring that such high standards are maintained.
Second, the SILE will determine the requirements for, as well as co-ordinate and exercise supervision over new mandatory continuing professional development obligations that will be introduced for the legal profession sometime in 2012.
Third, the SILE will conduct a new foreign practitioner examination to allow foreign lawyers who pass this examination to practise limited areas of Singapore law. Let me explain the rationale for introducing this new qualification.
The Legal Profession Act was amended in 2008 to allow Qualifying Foreign Law Practices (QFLP) and Joint Law Ventures (JLV) to practise in “permitted areas” of Singapore law, which refer to all areas of legal practice other than ring-fenced domestic areas such as litigation, constitutional and administrative law, criminal law, conveyancing and family law.
This Bill contains the amendments to establish the framework for a proposed “Foreign Practitioner Examination” or FPE for short. The FPE allows foreign lawyers who pass the examination to practise in “permitted areas” of Singapore law if they work in QFLPs, JLVs or Singapore Law Practices. If they are working in a Foreign Law Practice or FLP, their practice of Singapore law will be restricted to those areas allowed for FLPs, that is to render Singapore law advice in the context of international commercial arbitration work.
Foreign practitioners who are called to the bar of any foreign jurisdiction and who are able to meet eligibility criteria which will be set down in the Rules, can apply to take the examination, which will be administered by the SILE. Those who pass the examination can then register with the Attorney-General to obtain a “Foreign Practitioner Certificate” or FPC. The FPC will be renewable on a yearly basis like the Singapore Practising Certificate.
As FPC holders are primarily foreign lawyers, the Attorney-General will undertake the role of primary regulator. In respect of their practice of “permitted areas” of Singapore law, FPC holders will be subject to the same disciplinary regime applicable to Singapore Practising Certificate holders working in foreign law firms. This means that the Attorney-General will share concurrent disciplinary jurisdiction over them with the Supreme Court and the Law Society.
To ensure that FPC holders integrate with the local legal fraternity, FPC holders will be foreign practitioner members of the Law Society. They will also be members of the Singapore Academy of Law. Mandatory continuing professional development requirements, when introduced, will apply to FPC holders, with suitable modifications.
The Bill also contains amendments which streamline and improve the legislative and procedural framework for admission to the Singapore Bar; and enhance the practice training framework.
Admission requirements to the Singapore Bar are now found both within the main Act and various Rules. Due to policies introduced at various points over these 17 years or so, the main Act and subsidiary legislation contain many transitional and historical provisions.
We have decided to relook these provisions and put them in sequence, and remove some provisions which are no longer necessary. Clause 4 of the Bill introduces a new Part IIA governing admission to the Singapore Bar. As far as possible, the detailed requirements contained in the current Act and various Rules have been amalgamated and will be moved into two distinct sets of Rules, to make the legislation more user-friendly:
The first set of Rules will lay out the criteria for a person to be “qualified” to seek admission to the Singapore Bar. In this regard, historical and transitional provisions that have run their course will be phased out.
The second set of Rules will lay out the procedural requirements with which a “qualified person” must comply, in order to be admitted to the Singapore Bar. In this regard, one key improvement that will be made relates to the notice period required for a person’s call to the Singapore Bar.
At present, any person who applies for admission to the Singapore Bar must post a notice of his application on the Supreme Court notice board for a continuous period of six months. During this notice period, members of the public will be entitled to raise objections as to the suitability of that person to be admitted to the Bar.
There is no real need for this six-month notice period. My Ministry in consultation with the Supreme Court, Attorney-General’s Chambers and Law Society has reviewed the admission procedure to improve and streamline it. For example, in England and Wales, the United States (New York State), Australia (New South Wales) and Hong Kong, there is no requirement for a six-month posting of the notice of application.
We will reduce the six-month notice period to a 30-day period, during which information relating to the applicant’s admission will be posted on the Supreme Court website to afford members of the public an opportunity to raise objections. In addition, the admission procedure will be revised to require an applicant to make the necessary declarations regarding his suitability for admission to the Singapore Bar at the very outset when he files his admission application. Currently, he does so only after the six-month notice period has expired. This streamlined process will also give relevant stakeholders involved in the call process, namely, the Law Society, Attorney-General’s Chambers and the SILE, more time to conduct their assessments of each application, than they currently have.
With the enhancements and changes, the overall minimum time required for a person to be admitted will be shortened from the current six months, to around two months.
Next, under the current framework, a practice trainee undergoing his practice training contract may gain practical experience by being part-called to the Bar. This will allow him to appear before the Courts in limited types of hearings 1. A practice trainee may be entitled to be part-called only if he has served a minimum of four months of his six month practice training period.
Taking into account feedback from lawyers, the minimum period will be reduced to allow a practice trainee to apply to be part-called after he has served three months of his practice training period. In addition, once part-called, instead of the present limited types of hearing, a practice trainee may, under the supervision of his supervising solicitor, appear in Court for all hearings.
These amendments will enhance the practice training experience for trainees. They can now be part-called earlier and handle a broader scope of work.
Singapore Institute of Legal Education
Foreign Practitioner Examination and Certificate
Streamlining and Improving the Legislative and Procedural Framework for Admission to the Singapore Bar
Improvements to Admission Requirements and Procedures
Practice Training: Enhancements to Part Call
Miscellaneous and Technical Amendments
- The Bill also contains various miscellaneous and technical amendments. The key amendments are:
- First, to clarify that the provision of legal services by in-house counsel in their own organisations do not contravene section 33 of the Act, which criminalises certain acts if done by an “unauthorised person”. The reference to an “unauthorised person” includes a person who does not have in force a practising certificate. In-house counsel had raised concerns that there was uncertainty whether their activities as in-house counsel would be considered illegal since they do not hold practising certificates. This is not the policy intent.
- Second, provision is made for Rules to be prescribed to clarify the circumstances under which certain categories of legally-trained individuals can provide pro bono legal services. This would create greater certainty for pro bono work.
- Thirdly, amendments are made to permit an officer of a company, a limited liability partnership or an unincorporated association, to act on the entity’s behalf, without a solicitor, in certain Court proceedings in accordance with requirements that will be set out in the Rules of Court.
- Sir, the establishment of the SILE, the introduction of the foreign practitioner examination scheme and the other changes I have mentioned, are part and parcel of ongoing efforts to ensure that the framework supporting Singapore’s legal profession and legal services continues to develop in tandem with dynamic changes that have been taking place both in the local as well as international landscape.
- Sir, I beg to move.
- Response to MPs Ellen Lee and Michael Palmer on the Bill (0.01MB)
- Fact Sheet 1 - Singapore Institute of Legal Education (0.02MB)
- Fact Sheet 2 - Foreign Practitioner Examination (0.02MB)
- Fact Sheet 3 - Admissions Framework (0.02MB)
- Fact Sheet 4 - Improvements to Admission Procedure and Miscellaneous Amendments (0.08MB)
 Limited to appearing before (a) a Judge or Registrar in chambers; (b) a District Judge, a Magistrate, the Registrar of the Subordinate Courts or a Deputy Registrar of the Subordinate Courts in chambers; and (c) a District Judge or a Magistrate to mention a case or to apply for bail.
Last updated on 25 Nov 2012