Mr Yong Pung How became the second President of the Singapore Academy of Law when he was appointed Chief Justice in September 1990. The Academy was only two years in existence. Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had promoted the establishment of the Academy in 1988 as a unifying body within the entire legal community as well as to promote high standards of conduct and learning.
CJ Yong was a familiar face at the Academy’s restaurant in the City Hall where he had his lunch every Wednesday with the Judges of the Supreme Court, and on other days with dignitaries, lawyers and visitors. But in his 16 years as its President, CJ Yong would take the Academy from these humble beginnings to become a professional body playing an active role in developing the legal infrastructure in Singapore.
The scope of the Academy’s work grew in tandem with CJ Yong’s commitment to improve the efficiency of Singapore’s legal system and its lawyers. He pushed for the adoption of technology both in the courts and by the profession. The LawNet portal provided by the Academy was continually updated and improved during his term in office. As far as he was concerned, no one was too old to learn; the Academy would provide training opportunities and the Chief Justice used every possible occasion to sound the clarion call to remind the profession to prepare for change in the age of electronic and digital systems.
Recognising the importance of having our own set of law reports, CJ Yong initiated the publication of the (SLR), a series dedicated to the reporting of legally significant cases heard by the Singapore High Court and Court of Appeal. This allowed us to build a repository of legal precedents, which is the lifeblood of our common law system. The SLR published by the Academy since 1992 is now an indispensable part of every law office in Singapore.
CJ Yong presided over a period of immense change in Singapore’s economic landscape and he was always mindful that the legal profession should stay up to speed with the latest developments to take advantage of new opportunities. Under his stewardship, the Academy began to re-invent itself to meet changing times. It promoted greater learning through seminars and the Annual Lectures. It contributed to shaping the laws of Singapore through its Law Reform Committee. As Singapore became a major financial and business hub, the Academy sought to establish mediation and promoted arbitration to complement judicial proceedings and to cater for business disputes.
To nurture and assist bright and aspiring lawyers, the Academy took the lead in promoting scholarships in the law, nurturing young talent in the Singapore legal system. While the Chief Justice would encourage lawyers to achieve greater heights of excellence, he never failed to instil the importance of upholding the principles of honesty, integrity and professionalism.
CJ Yong has left us a rich legacy. By the time he retired on 10 April 2006, the Academy had grown into a respectable and reputable institution. CJ Yong’s foresight in introducing statutory services like stakeholding and legalisation of documents enabled the Academy to be self-funding. Among his last initiatives was the SingaporeLaw website which offers free access to Singapore statutes and published judgments and information on Singapore commercial law.
CJ Yong’s leadership will remain an inspiration as the Academy continues to serve the legal profession and the public in the years ahead.
We are deeply saddened by the passing of CJ Yong. The Academy extends its condolences to his family.