A Fireside Chat with Law Minister
K Shanmugam

From left: Jolene Kua (President of the NUS Law Criminal Justice Club), Kenny Low (President of the NUS Law Club), Mr K Shanmugam (Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs) and Prof Simon Chesterman (NUS Faculty of Law Dean).

Singapore Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs Mr K Shanmugam visited the NUS Faculty of Law on 2 September 2013 for a Fireside Chat session moderated by NUS Faculty of Law Dean Prof Simon Chesterman. The Minister’s chat covered a wide variety of topics such as the changing social and political climate in Singapore, the ageing population, freedom of speech, criminal law and contempt of court.

Mr Shanmugam offered an insight into the intricacies of public policymaking, illustrating with a few examples of how the government often have to decide on the appropriate trade-offs when balancing competing needs of different societal interests in Singapore.

On defamation and the freedom of speech, Mr Shanmugam explained: “You want public debate to be honest on issues which matter to people. My personal conduct is completely irrelevant to that debate unless what you say is true.” He added: “Every country enforces restrictions on speech; it’s a question of where you draw the line and whether you have a clear rationale for it.”

Regarding contempt of court, he advises to “criticise and express your feelings about court judgments in the strongest possible terms but do not suggest that the judge had a motive, an extraneous reason or pecuniary interest for deciding the way he did.” He further noted: “The judiciary is an institution and the judges can’t defend themselves in their personal capacity; they ought to be protected and it’s a balance. If you allow them to be attacked regularly, after some time, the way in which society perceives the judiciary will go down.”

Speaking about the rehabilitation of criminals, Mr Shanmugam highlighted the work done by the Yellow Ribbon Project and how school dropouts are at a higher risk of committing crimes and ending up in prison. The solution then is to deal with the problem upstream and minimise the dropout rate.

Ending the session with some hard-hitting advice for law students, he told them to “enjoy yourselves because when you go out into the working life, it’s going to be very different. As long as you come out with a good mind, the world is your oyster.” Career-wise, he encouraged students to “do something that is going to challenge and engage you, keep you occupied and that you’ll be happy doing. Ask yourself what is it that you really want, what is going to fulfill you and go for it.”

The Fireside Chat is part of the NUS Faculty of Law’s series of conversations to provide law students with the opportunity to engage in discussions with members of the legal fraternity on wide-ranging topics. Previously, NUS Law had also hosted a fireside chat by former CJ Chan Sek Keong, on the topic of “Constitutional Law”.

Mr Shanmugam (left), with Prof Simon Chesterman, addressing questions from the students.