Out Goes the AG

Re-entry into politics or rather, he didn’t like what he is doing now.  I always thought he would be the man advancing change from within and that he was not co-opted into the government as what his critics thought. He was one of the more prominent NMPs and when he was offered Ambassadorship in Germany years ago, many thought that it was the chance to shift him out of Singapore so that his voice won’t be heard over here.

05:55 AM Mar 04, 2010
by Zul Othman

SINGAPORE – Some had heard recently that Singapore’s top prosecutor Walter Woon would be leaving the job he took over barely two years ago. But when it was confirmed yesterday that Singapore’s fifth Attorney-General (AG) was indeed stepping down, the legal fraternity was still taken by surprise.

“Professor Woon was appointed only quite recently. Anyone who gets in a position like that is not going to stay for one or two years. It’s a long-term thing because you need to learn the ropes and the intricacies of the job,” East Asia Law Corporation lawyer Premchand Soman said.

The AG is the Government’s main legal adviser and his office decides which criminal cases to prosecute. In a statement yesterday, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced that Prof Woon, 53, would exit his post once his term of office expires on April 10.

Mr Sundaresh Menon, 47, Senior Counsel and managing partner of law firm Rajah and Tann, will take over as AG from Oct 1 – after he has cleared other commitments – for the usual initial term of two years.

And in a first, there will be an acting AG for the interim six months. Solicitor General Koh Juat Jong will hold the post from April 11 to Sept 30.

Lawyer Rajan Supramaniam from Hilborne and Co said: “Since Prof Woon came in, there have been a number of changes and all has been well so far. He was expected to remain in the position for some time.”

Prof Woon created a separate division for subordinate courts prosecution to enhance the development of criminal litigation skills, noted PMO. He represented Singapore in the negotiation of the Asean Charter and raised Singapore’s international profile by hosting the International Association of Prosecutors Conference in Singapore in 2008, among other things.

He also ensured the recruitment of many young and talented lawyers, added the statement.

But now, Prof Woon has decided to return to the Law Faculty of the National University of Singapore to resume his teaching appointment which he last held in 1997.

He will concurrently become the first Dean of the Singapore Institute of Legal Education, which takes charge of the post-graduate practical training of local and overseas graduates seeking admission to the Bar.

The AG’s Chambers did not reply to queries by press time. But Mr Premchand thought Prof Woon has always had an attraction to teaching. “He’s always been a scholar, and he’s a good teacher. If you discuss (law) with him, he doesn’t patronise you.”

Singapore Management University law lecturer Tan observed: “Given that Mr Menon would only take over the post on Oct 1, this would suggest that Prof Woon’s departure was unexpected.”

There have been whispers within the legal fraternity that Prof Woon’s career could take another direction: Into politics. After all, he is already an experienced diplomat, one lawyer observed.

“He’s more of an academic, but there’s also a possibility he would stand in the next General Election as a candidate,” said criminal lawyer and Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore president Subhas Anandan. Under Singapore law, public servants are not allowed to assume political office.

Prof Woon took on his first case as AG in July 2008 when he sought a life term for a woman who had schemed with her teen lover to kill her husband – surprising the legal fraternity by the choice of case. The prosecution lost the appeal. The outgoing AG also initiated contempt of court proceedings against the Wall Street Journal Asia.

As for his successor, Mr Subhas said Mr Menon would make a worthy AG, as the former judicial commissioner “is very experienced and world-renowned for arbitration”.

Mr Rajan concurred: “He knows the ground and, coming in, he may introduce practical measures in the criminal justice system.”

4 Responses

  1. He has always been a ‘puzzle’ for me.

    Govt acceded to his quest for a law to help the elderly claim support from their children. One can say that that law is a plus for govt and its coffers. But, still it is unusual for this govt to allow outsiders tell it what to do.

    Then he was sent into temporary ‘exile’ (that’s how I regarded his ambassadorship to Germany/Europe -reminds you of what had happened to Tommy Koh whose brilliance (and also perhaps his view of govt) is not liked by LKY.

    When he returned from Europe to be the AG (of all govt position) I thought it showed his true ‘pro-estab’ colour. But then he said and did an number of things which suggests he is drawing the line and telling govt beforehand that he is his own person and would not brook interference (read political interferences) to the way he does his job. He esp. underscored that ALL would be treated equally under the law. My guess is that this did not go down well with the govt which is potentially going to be embarrassed if a case involving one of its members/party members transgresses the law -which is a very real possibility.

    Now, I am not too sure why in recent days the opposition gets less harsh and arbitrary treatment from the govt, police and even ‘decent’ court treatment. Is it the AG or is it the ‘Obama’ factor – when LKY met the US President, I am pretty sure he would have gotten a pretty earful of the president’s view of where Singapore can do better delivered in his usual eloquent and direct style.

  2. George

    “Now, I am not too sure why in recent days the opposition gets less harsh and arbitrary treatment from the govt, police and even ‘decent’ court treatment.”

    I think you hit the nail on the head, and that could be why the AG should not be the AG, from the politicians’ perspective. The silver lining is that Walter Woon goes back to teaching, and shaping the minds of future lawyers.

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