Tuesday, 13 Apr 2021

SMU names law school after late CJ Yong Pung How for his 'profound and immense' impact on profession

SINGAPORE – Former chief justice Yong Pung How had such a profound and immense impact on the legal profession that, more than three decades after he set out to transform Singapore’s justice system, his achievement is still talked about around the world today.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said this on Thursday (April 8) at a ceremony to mark the renaming of the Singapore Management University (SMU) law school after Mr Yong, who was Singapore’s second chief justice and SMU’s third chancellor.

The new name – Yong Pung How School of Law – takes effect on Sunday (April 11), the day on which Mr Yong would have turned 95.

He was 93 when he died in January last year.

More than 200 guests – including Mr Yong’s widow, Mrs Yong Wei Woo, 91, and their daughter, Ms Yong Ying-I, 57 – attended the event, either in person at the SMU Hall or virtually.

In the audience were Education Minister Lawrence Wong, Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong, SMU honorary patron Tony Tan Keng Yam and SMU senior management, as well as faculty, students and alumni of the law school.

Chief Justice Menon said: “Many in this audience lived through the years when the Chief Justice led tirelessly from the front and, with incredible determination, fundamentally transformed and modernised the administration of justice in Singapore.”

In his speech, he told of how, when he was in Jamaica recently to deliver a keynote speech to judges there, Mr Yong’s work “was the subject of much attention”.

When Mr Yong took over as Singapore’s top judge in 1990, he revamped court processes and implemented a slew of measures that cleared a backlog of more than 2,000 cases.

Chief Justice Menon also spoke of Mr Yong’s “strong nurturing instinct”, which led him to take a particular interest in the training and education of young lawyers and students.

Mr Yong started the Justices’ Law Clerk scheme to enlist talented young officers into the legal service. But this “went well beyond a recruitment exercise” as he took a genuine interest in their lives.

“More than two decades later, several of them were among his most regular visitors in hospital during his last illness… And I am fortunate indeed to have several of them serve as my colleagues on the Bench today,” said the Chief Justice.

Ms Yong, who is Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Communications and Information, said she and her mother were touched that SMU chose to change the name of the school to time it with what would have been her father’s birthday.

“In his final years as chief justice, my father strongly supported the Government’s plan to set up a second law school in Singapore, at SMU. After his retirement, my father was delighted to chair the law school’s advisory board,” she said.

Ms Yong said her father often met the former deans, attended seminars, and helped to select faculty.


More than 200 guests, either in person or virtually, attended the ceremony at the SMU Hall to mark the renaming of the law school. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

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She said he was also happy to make gifts to establish the Yong Pung How Chair Professorship, two research centres in Law, and the Yong Pung How Bursaries to benefit students with financial needs.

SMU chairman Ho Kwon Ping, who attended the event virtually from overseas, spoke about Mr Yong’s wider contributions to Singapore before he accepted a request by founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to helm the judiciary in 1989.

Mr Yong and Mr Lee had met as law students at Cambridge University. After moving to Singapore in the 1970s, the Kuala Lumpur-born Mr Yong helped set up GIC, led the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and was chairman of OCBC Bank.

Despite taking a huge pay cut, from over $2 million a year as a banker, to less than $300,000 as a judge, Mr Yong agreed out of a sense of duty to the country, said Mr Ho.

In his speech, Professor Goh Yihan, the current dean, spoke about the direction for the school, such as changing the way law is taught and producing legal research of practical relevance.

“We want to fashion the Yong Pung How School of Law as an institution that prepares our graduates not only for the practice of law but also the future,” said Prof Goh.

At the ceremony, SMU president Lily Kong presented to Dr Yong’s family a specially-produced pictorial book highlighting his key achievements.

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