Word From the Dean
Prof Simon Chesterman pens his first Dean’s Diary to alumni
Dear members of the NUS Law Community,
It is an honour to write to you for the first time in my capacity as Dean of the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law.
NUS Law is at a pivotal moment in its development. Now generally recognized as Asia’s Global Law School, we have the opportunity to become one of the very best law schools in the world — in terms of our academic programmes and our research, but also for the unique role that we play in Singapore, and that Singapore plays internationally.
The position we now occupy is due in no small part to the transformational leadership of Prof Tan Cheng Han, SC ’87, whom I have the honour to succeed as Dean. His efforts gave substance to the tagline “Asia’s Global Law School”, in part through strategic partnerships with top schools like New York University School of Law. It is fitting that his term concluded with the announcement of another strategic partnership with Tsinghua Law School. These partnerships, as well as the creation of institutions like the Asian Law Institute and the Asian Society of International Law, clearly position NUS Law as the partner of choice at the heart of a rising Asia.
But partnerships and networks are only a vehicle. The success of a law school depends primarily on the achievements of its faculty and students, as well as the engagement of its alumni and other stakeholders. In this, my first letter, I will highlight some of the achievements of the past year — and indicate some of what we hope to achieve in the next.
New (and Old) Hires
First, I am delighted to announce some very strong additions to our faculty, including the return of a couple of familiar faces.
Asst Prof Goh Yihan ’06, returned to NUS Law after completing his LL.M. at Harvard. Another entry-level hire is Asst Prof Chen Weitseng; with a doctorate from Yale and experience at Davis Polk, he specializes in Asian and Chinese legal studies, looking in particular at globalization and economies in transition.
(Above: Asst Prof Goh Yihan ’06, and Asst Prof Chen Weitseng)
We are also pleased to announce the appointment of two new professors. Prof Andrew Halpin is a legal theorist who has previously held chairs at Southampton and Swansea. His work focuses on rights and legal reasoning, drawing on a range of other disciplines including logic, politics, and economics. Prof Andrew Harding is a renowned scholar in Asian legal studies and comparative constitutional law. He began his academic career at NUS and now returns to direct a new Centre for Asian Legal Studies, as well as leading our on-going work in the Asian Law Institute.
As part of a larger project to honour the memory of Madam Kwa Geok Choo, Prof Kevin Gray, Dean of Trinity College, Cambridge, became the first Kwa Geok Choo Professor in Property Law.
And Prof S Jayakumar ’63 has rejoined the Law School as a Professor after many years of government service. Among other activities, he will be organizing a series of “fireside chats” with another former Dean of NUS Law, Prof Tommy Koh ’61, discussing international law and diplomacy.
(Prof Kevin Gray and Prof S Jayakumar '63)
Our faculty made significant achievements in many areas, in the past year.
On the teaching front, Assoc Prof Chan Wing Cheong, Prof Ng-Loy Wee Loon ’87, and Asst Prof Daniel Puchniak won NUS Annual Teaching Excellence Awards. In addition, Assoc Prof Joel Lee received the NUS Outstanding Educator Award — the highest accolade awarded by the University for teaching.
(Above: Assoc Prof Chan Wing Cheong, Prof Ng-Loy Wee Loon ’87, Asst Prof Daniel Puchniak, and Assoc Prof Joel Lee)
I recently had the pleasure of announcing the faculty’s own Faculty Teaching Excellence awards, with honours going to Asst Prof Sandra Booysen LLM ’02 PhD ’09, Asst Prof Daniel Puchniak, Prof Alan Tan ’93, Asst Prof David Tan, Asst Prof Umakanth Varottil, and Prof Stanley Yeo ’76.
(Above: Asst Prof Sandra Booysen LLM ’02 PhD ’09, Prof Alan Tan ’93, Asst Prof David Tan, Asst Prof Umakanth Varottil, and Prof Stanley Yeo ’76)
In service to Singapore’s legal profession, Assoc Prof Lim Lei Theng ’92 and Assoc Prof Tang Hang Wu ’95 were awarded the Legal Aid Bureau’s Amicus Award for their work as Volunteer Assistant Directors, and Prof Walter Woon ’81 took up his position as the first Dean of the Singapore Institute of Legal Education.
(Above: Assoc Prof Lim Lei Theng ’92, Assoc Prof Tang Hang Wu ’95 and Prof Walter Woon ’81)
2011 was also an extremely significant year in Singapore politics. NUS Law faculty were frequently quoted in the media and spoke at public events, most prominently our public law scholars Prof Thio Li-ann and Adj Prof Kevin Tan ’86. In more traditional law reform, various members of the faculty contributed to discussions on reforming Singapore law in a range of areas, including the Companies Act, the Evidence Act, and the creation of new data protection legislation.
(Above: Prof Thio Li-ann and Adj Prof Kevin Tan ’86)
Our new colleagues join a faculty that continues to produce outstanding scholarship across the spectrum of legal research.
In addition to dozens of scholarly articles and book chapters, as well as scores of conference papers, the following books appeared in the past year: Assoc Prof Tey Tsun Hang’s Commentary and Cases on Personal Property Law (LexisNexis, 2011); The Singapore Women’s Charter: 50 Questions by Prof Leong Wai Kum (Institute of South East Asian Studies, 2011); Diplomacy: A Singapore Experience by Prof S Jayakumar ’63 (Straits Times Press, 2011); Prof Andrew Simester’s Crimes, Harms, and Wrongs: On the Principles of Criminalisation, written with Andreas von Hirsch (Hart, 2011); and my own One Nation Under Surveillance: A New Social Contract to Defend Freedom Without Sacrificing Liberty (Oxford University Press, 2011), launched by the then-Minister of Home Affairs K Shanmugam ’84.
We also welcomed the second editions of Prof Hans Tjio’s Principles and Practice of Securities Regulation in Singapore (LexisNexis, 2011); Prof Stephen Girvin’s Carriage of Goods by Sea (Oxford University Press, 2011); and Banking Law by Assoc Prof Poh Chu Chai ’73 (LexisNexis, 2011); as well as an updated and revised edition of Prof Jeffrey Pinsler’s Civil Practice in Singapore and Malaysia (LexisNexis, 2011) and the seventh edition of Land Law by Prof Kevin Gray and S F Gray (Oxford University Press, 2011).
(Above: Prof Michael Hor ’84, Prof Teo Keang Sood, Prof Hans Tjio)
Our faculty also edited major works on a variety of topics of national and regional significance. These books include: Assoc Prof Chan Wing Cheong (ed), Singapore's Ageing Population: Managing Healthcare and End of Life Decisions (Routledge, 2011); Assoc Prof Tang Hang Wu ’95, Prof Michael Hor ’84, and Koh Swee Yen, The Practice of Law (LexisNexis, 2011); Prof Teo Keang Sood (ed), Annual Review of Singapore Cases 2010 (Singapore Academy of Law, 2011); Assoc Prof Chan Wing Cheong, Barry Wright, and Prof Stanley Yeo ’76 (eds), Codification, Macaulay, and the Indian Penal Code: The Legacies and Modern Challenges of Criminal Law Reform (Ashgate, 2011); E Ann Black and Assoc Prof Gary Bell (eds), Law and Legal Institutions of Asia: Traditions, Adaptations and Innovations (Cambridge University Press, 2011); Prof Yeo Tiong Min ’90, Prof Hans Tjio and Assoc Prof Tang Hang Wu ’95 (eds), Developments in Singapore Law Between 2006 and 2010: Trends and Perspectives (Singapore Academy of Law, 2011); Prof R Ian McEwin and Kala Anandarajah ’89, ASEAN Competition Law (LexisNexis, 2011); Prof R Ian McEwin, Intellectual Property, Competition Law and Economics in Asia (Hart, 2011); and Assoc Prof Victor R Savage and Assoc Prof Lye Lin Heng ’73 (eds), Environment and Climate Change in Asia: Ecological Footprints and Green Prospects (Pearson, 2011).
The Law School also launched a new journal, the Asian Journal of International Law. Published by Cambridge University Press, it aspires to rival its American and European counterparts and is edited by myself and NUS Law’s Assoc Prof Simon Tay ’86, together with Surya P. Subedi of Leeds University. It joins the Asian Journal of Comparative Law and NUS Law’s flagship publication: the Singapore Journal of Legal Studies.
Though faculty achievements in many ways shape the reputation of an institution, the lifeblood of a law school is its students. The annual cycle of sharp and lively undergraduates and a diverse range of graduate and exchange students ensure that NUS Law is never static.
In addition to annual traditions such as Orientation, Rag & Flag, the Law IV Musical, the Collegiate Dinner, and Commencement — and of course the normal rigours of law school studies — there were many highlights of the past year.
Our mooters continued a fine tradition of success, ably led by Assoc Prof Eleanor Wong ’85, working with Assoc Prof Lim Lei Theng ’92 and other colleagues. Firas Alsuwaigh ’12, Navleen Kaur ’11 and Mrinalini Singh ’11 were Asia-Pacific Regional Champions in the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition, thus earning a spot in the Grand Finals where they emerged runners-up.
NUS Law also hosted the 12th International Maritime Law Arbitration Moot Competition in July 2011, having won the previous year in Sydney. Eighteen teams attended from Asia, Australia and Europe, with the finals judged by Adj Prof Lawrence Boo ’80 LLM ’88, Justice Judith Prakash ’74 and Prof Michael Pryles.
(The Jessup Team outside The White House)
In the first ever Singapore National Rounds for the Philip C Jessup International Law Moot, Chong Yonghui ’11, Elsa Goh ’12, Keith Han ’11 and Sarah Hew ’12 advanced; and Keith was named best speaker in the National Rounds. In Washington DC, our team went on to the semi-finals of the global competition. The Oxford IP Moot team (Amos Toh ’12 and Adrianni Marhain ’12) were also semi-finalists in 2011. Other mooting and negotiation teams competed at the highest levels around the world. Among these achievements, Chin Jincheng ’13 won the inaugural Attorney-General’s (AG) Cup held in August 2011.
NUS Law also won the International Negotiation Competition for the first time since its establishment in 1998. Andre Tan Qing Yang ’11 and Marcus Lim Tao Shien ’12 beat 19 teams from around the world to win INC 2011, which was held in Copenhagen.
Andre Tan Qing Yang ’11 and Marcus Lim Tao Shien ’12
In 2010, the Law School was approached by the International Court of Justice and the World Bank to be the first Asian law school offering prestigious fellowships for law graduates to work at each institution. Tan Liang Ying ’07 was ultimately selected as the first student to benefit from the scheme and is now at The Hague completing her nine-month fellowship.
Our students also engaged in various acts of public service, notably including Megan Seah Xiaoyun ’13’s book donation drive to benefit Northlight School.
Alumni Relations & Development
Our alumni relations were transformed through the launch of a new-look LawLink and the appointment of a new associate director for Alumni Relations and Development, Trina Gan ’04.
Following the general election, NUS Law alumni constituted a significant proportion of the Members of Parliament. In addition to Halimah Yacob ’78, Ellen Lee ’80, K Shanmugam ’84, Indranee Rajah ’86, Lim Biow Chuan ’88, Hri Kumar Nair ’91, and Christopher De Souza Dip Sing ’02, those newly elected included Edwin Tong ’94, Patrick Tay ’95, Desmond Lee ’01 and Vikram Nair Dip Sing ’05.
Sylvia Lim ’88, a member of the Workers’ Party team contesting Aljunied GRC, became the first female non-People’s Action Party MP in Singapore’s history.
It was also a good year for reunions. The classes of 1961, 1986, 1991 and 2001 held events, taking the opportunity to find ways to support current and future NUS Law students. In honour of their Golden Jubilee Anniversary, the class of 1961 established the Lionel A Sheridan Professorship, in honour of founding Dean Lionel “Lee” Sheridan. The Class of 1986, which had established the Class of 1986 Bennett Lam Scholarship at their last reunion, continued their fund-raising efforts in October. The Class of 2001 noted the tragic passing of Sarah Woo Pei Yee ’01, donating the money raised in her name to the Financial Assistance to Law Students Fund. The Class of 1991 also contributed to the Lee Sheridan Legal Education Fund.
Law Alumni reunion in ShanghaiReunions were not confined to Singapore. Following the success of a reunion held in Shanghai, I plan to explore the possibility of reunions to connect NUS Law alumni in New York, Hong Kong, London and elsewhere. Such events are only possible if we can reach out effectively to our alumni.
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In other alumni & development news, Justice V K Rajah ’82, Justice Steven Chong ’82, Justice Andrew Phang ’82, Jimmy Yim, SC ’82 and Davinder Singh SC ’82 expressed their appreciation for the faculty by setting up a prize in Property Law in honour of Professor Tan Sook Yee, a former Dean of NUS Law.
Generosity also runs in our younger alumni. Seow Tzi Yang ’11, the valedictorian of his class and recipient of numerous bursaries and scholarships, took the opportunity of his graduation to make a first donation to NUS Law.
To commemorate the life and achievements of Madam Kwa Geok Choo, NUS Law undertook a significant fund-raising drive to launch a series of initiatives in her name. We have now established the Kwa Geok Choo Professorship in Property Law; the Kwa Geok Choo Bursary; the Kwa Geok Choo Scholarship; and the Kwa Geok Choo Distinguished Visitors Programme. I am deeply grateful to the organizations and individuals who have supported these worthy initiatives.
The generosity of our alumni and other supporters of NUS Law is of extraordinary importance to the role we play in Singapore and internationally. Scholarships attract the very best candidates to NUS Law; prizes reward students for their achievements. Bursaries make it possible for students who might otherwise not be able to attend law school to complete a degree. Support for visiting professors and endowed chairs greatly enhance the richness of our academic offerings. And contributions to our research programme make it possible to push at the boundaries of legal research, encouraging creative solutions to regulatory problems. All of this enhances Singapore’s status as a global legal hub — not only for the practice of law, but for the cutting-edge research that shapes our understanding of law.
The coming year will be a busy and exciting one. A decanal transition offers a chance for renewal but also reflection. Over the coming months I will be reaching out to all stakeholders — including my colleagues on the faculty, members of the government and the judiciary, representatives of the profession both in Singapore and internationally, as well as students past and present.
On the basis of these conversations, formal and informal, we will be developing a strategic plan for NUS Law: a realistic assessment of where we are now, where we hope to be in five to ten years, and how we can get there.
If you have read this far, it suggests a degree of interest in NUS Law that I hope to draw upon. And so I would ask you to reflect on ways in which you think we can improve, and let me know — either by participating in a formal consultation exercise or just by dropping me a note.
As a starting point, I think there are three areas on which we need to concentrate.
- The first is in our curricular and extra-curricular offerings. Our undergraduate curriculum last underwent a major overhaul in 2002. The world has changed since then — among other things, Facebook didn’t exist and a tweet was still a sound made primarily by birds — and the study of law must change also. We need to prepare graduates for a truly globalized world, in which they are comfortable operating across jurisdictions, but also leveraging on the important role that Singapore plays in a rising Asia.
NUS Law has a great tradition of legal training. But the lawyers of the future need more than just good doctrinal skills. They need to be creative thinkers, to be able to cross literal and metaphorical boundaries in their work. Training students to do this requires pushing them outside their comfort zone. I want to ensure that their time at NUS Law is intellectually challenging, but also as enriching and transformative. And they should have fun!
Addressing these issues will entail a major review of our curriculum. In addition, I have created the new position of Vice Dean of Student Affairs, held by Assoc Prof Joel Lee, with a mandate to enrich and enhance the student experience at NUS Law outside the classroom and the library.
Important first steps have already been taken by allowing students in the Yale-NUS College an opportunity to earn an LL.B. as well as a B.A. This is in addition to our other double degrees, and may serve as a proving ground for wider changes in the Bachelor of Laws degree. This is on top of a suite of extracurricular changes, such as skills workshops, career talks, and pro bono opportunities.
- Secondly, we need to sharpen our research, cultivating and promoting scholarship in areas of comparative advantage for — or of strategic interest to — Singapore. We have a comparative advantage in areas like Asian Legal Studies and Maritime Law. Our strategic interest is in topics like International Law, Law & Business, and Environmental Law. A key area for expansion is in International Arbitration, the topic of our inaugural Kwa Geok Choo Distinguished Visitors Lecture by Gary Born, one of the world's preeminent authorities on international commercial arbitration and international litigation.
In the coming year you will hear more about our activities in these areas, including the launch of two new research centres and new advanced programmes of study. The Centre for International Law, which has flourished under Assoc Prof Bob Beckman, offers a model for how such initiatives can raise the profile of NUS Law and add value in important areas of research.
- The third area on which we need to focus is re-engaging our stakeholders. Our Singapore-based alumni now hold the highest legal offices in the land, both in government, the judiciary, and in the profession. But we also have graduates in positions of leadership around the world. NUS Law is uniquely positioned to contribute to Singapore’s aspirations to be a global legal hub, centred in Asia, in significant part because our faculty, our students, and our alumni bridge East and West. We need to do more to involve them in the life of the Law School — we need to do more to involve you.
Blaise Pascal is famously said to have begun a long letter to a friend by apologising that he did not have time to write a shorter one.
I have written at some length on this first occasion in order to give you a snapshot of the excitement and activity that I see within NUS Law every day. The opportunity to work with outstanding colleagues, our amazing students, and the members of our wider NUS Law community is what led me to aspire to the position of Dean.
As we move forward, I hope you will play an active role in the formulation of our strategic plan. That process is important both in terms of charting a direction for NUS Law, but also ensuring that you are part of the journey.
Please accept my best wishes for the calendar and Lunar New Year. I hope that they bring you and your loved ones peace, happiness, and fulfilment.
Dean, NUS Law