Kwa Geok Choo Professorial Lecture: Singapore Trusts Law at a Crossroads

Professor James Penner, Kwa Geok Choo Professor of Property Law

Professor James Penner delivered his inaugural lecture as the Kwa Geok Choo Professor of Property Law on 22 March, 2018, at NUS Law’s Bukit Timah Campus. The lecture titled, “Singapore Trusts Law at a Crossroads”, was chaired by Professor Tang Hang Wu ’95, Director of the Centre for Cross-Border Commercial Law in Asia at the School of Law, Singapore Management University.

Guests at the event included Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy, Judicial Commissioner Pang Khang Chau, former Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Deputy Attorney-General Mr Lionel Yee, and Mr Jeffrey Chan ’73.

During his lecture, Professor Penner talked about the influence of English and Australian decisions in Singapore Trusts Law. Traditionally in Singapore, though only of persuasive authority, decisions of the courts of England and Wales in the law of trusts have been treated with a great deal of respect, which is understandable. However, recent decisions from those courts concerning breach of trust, tracing, and the relationship between the law of trusts and the law of unjust enrichment have, arguably, taken the English law in a novel direction which could be subject to much criticism. By contrast, Australian authorities and commentators defended a more traditional approach in regard to these matters. In the near future, the Singapore courts may have to decide whether the English and Australian authorities could be reconciled, and if not (as seems likely), which would be of greater assistance in deciding cases in the Singapore context.

Professor Penner was appointed the Kwa Geok Choo Professor of Property Law in July 2017, succeeding Professor Kevin Gray. He is also the Vice Dean for Research at the NUS Law, and works primarily in the area of property and trusts, as well as law and theory. He is well-established as one of the world's leading experts in the philosophy of property and the law of trusts, while also writing more widely in the areas of private law and the philosophy of law. Prior to joining NUS Law in 2013, his publications included the prize-winning monograph The Idea of Property Law, and a sole-authored textbook.

The Kwa Geok Choo Professorship in Property Law was launched on 5 July 2011 as a tribute to the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo, who was a leading property lawyer. She was a pioneer who started a law firm with Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his younger brother, and then went on to excel as a conveyancing lawyer, mentoring many others in the process.

From left: Professor Tang Hang Wu, Professor James Penner, and Professor Simon Chesterman, Dean of NUS Law

Professor Penner and Professor Tang discussing the subject and taking questions from the audience

Dean Simon Chesterman

Sheridan Fellow Jeremiah Lau ’15

Mr TPB Menon ’61 and Professor Lye Lin Heng ’73

Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy speaking to Professor Ng-Loy Wee Loon