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Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon: Opening Address at the Singapore Academy of Law Annual Lecture 2023

Singapore Academy Of Law Annual Lecture 2023

Opening Address

Friday, 8 September 2023

The Honourable the Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon
Supreme Court of Singapore

The Honourable Dr Justice D Y Chandrachud, Chief Justice of India
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

  1. Good evening, and a very warm welcome to the 28th Singapore Academy of Law Annual Lecture. On behalf of the Academy, it is my privilege to welcome The Honourable the Chief Justice of India as our guest of honour who will deliver this year’s Annual Lecture.

  2. Chief Justice Chandrachud earned his Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Mathematics from St Stephen’s College in Delhi in 1979 before graduating with a Bachelor of Laws from Delhi University in 1982. He went on to obtain his Master of Laws and Doctor of Juridical Science degrees from Harvard Law School. He then practised at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP for a time before returning to India, where he was designated a Senior Advocate by the Bombay High Court in 1998. Thereafter, and until his elevation to the Bench in 2000, the Chief Justice was also appointed as Additional Solicitor General of India.

  3. Chief Justice Chandrachud served as a Judge of the Bombay High Court from 2000 until his appointment as the Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court in 2013. In 2016, he was appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court of India, and six years later, in November 2022, he was appointed as the 50th Chief Justice of India. Notably, his father, Justice Y V Chandrachud, had served as the 16th Chief Justice of India from 1978 to 1985.

  4. Beyond being a distinguished and prolific jurist, Chief Justice Chandrachud has also been a thought leader and an ardent advocate for causes such as access to justice, diversity and inclusivity. To give just a few examples, Chief Justice Chandrachud has shared his vision for India’s judiciary to use technology to “take justice to every home”(1), in his words, such as by live-streaming court proceedings, making the entire body of the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of India available online for free(2), and translating court orders into the local languages. He has also championed the cause of securing equal opportunities for women in the legal profession.(3) It is therefore no surprise that the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession presented the Chief Justice with its Award for Global Leadership – its highest professional distinction – last December.(4)

  5. I could not possibly do justice to Chief Justice Chandrachud’s remarkable career within the confines of this brief introduction; so I will instead share a personal reflection about the Chief Justice and then highlight one theme of his life’s work in the law.

  6. Beginning with the personal reflection, I have been acquainted with the Chief Justice for a number of years. I had known for some time that over the course of more than two decades as a judge, he had carved out a sterling reputation as one of India’s finest legal minds, and as a leader who had a bold vision of what was possible, as well as the character and determination to turn this vision into reality. In the 10 months since he took office, we have seen ample evidence of all this – from the brilliant judgments he has issued to the many reforms he has initiated. But for me, the biggest and most heart-warming discovery has been the insight I have gained into the personal side of the Chief Justice. Over the course of two visits that I made to India this year, first at his invitation and then at the invitation of his brother judge, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, I had the great pleasure of spending many hours with the Chief Justice, his wife and their children. In the course of those conversations, the seeds of friendship were planted and that has afforded us a foundation on which to build and launch a number of significant collaborative initiatives. And in the process, I have discovered that Chief Justice Chandrachud is as warm, gentle and humane a person as he is brilliant and driven, and that is a rare and remarkable combination.

  7. Turning to a key theme of the Chief Justice’s work, it is his deep and abiding interest in constitutional law that stands out. His doctoral thesis at Harvard focused on the protection of minority rights in India, and he has also held an appointment as a Visiting Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law at the University of Mumbai. Since his elevation to the Bench, he has issued several significant judgments that have been highly influential in shaping India’s constitutional law jurisprudence. These judgments, including several dissents, have dealt with difficult issues ranging from the right to privacy, (5) the concept of indirect and systemic discrimination, (6) and the right to seek an abortion. (7) It is therefore fitting that the Chief Justice has chosen to speak to us this evening on the role and the significance of the Constitution of India over the past seven decades.

  8. In both India and Singapore, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and it is foundational in enshrining fundamental rights and liberties and in governing the relationship between the state and her citizens. As with the Constitution of India, the story of our Constitution is closely intertwined with that of our nationhood, with the result that the way in which our Constitution came into being was rather messy. This was because of the fraught circumstances in which we became an independent nation in August 1965. (8) As a consequence, we began with a temporary constitution, adopted by Parliament in December that year, which was in essence a patchwork of several different instruments (9) and which was memorably described by our first elected Chief Minister, Mr David Marshall, as “the untidiest and most confusing constitution that any country has started life with”. (10) There was thus no “constitutional drafting moment” for Singapore, (11) and it was not until 1980 that a consolidated Reprint of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore was published. (12) But over the last 58 years, our Constitution, like its Indian counterpart, has taken its place as the most important legal document of the land.

  9. Each country’s constitution encapsulates and operates within its own unique blend of political, social, cultural, historical and legal traditions. It is therefore unsurprising – and I dare say unavoidable – that there are differences not only in the text of the Singapore and Indian Constitutions, but also in the approaches that the courts in each jurisdiction have taken towards the resolution of issues of constitutional law. But despite these differences, the centrality of the Constitution in both our legal systems embodies and safeguards the firm commitment of both our nations to constitutionalism. By empowering the courts to pronounce on the legality of government actions in “a democracy where the Constitution reigns supreme”, (13) our Constitutions secure fidelity to the rule of law, which in turn is the bedrock on which both our societies are founded and on which they have thrived. (14)

  10. So, while the Chief Justice’s lecture will focus on the Indian Constitution and the Indian courts, it promises to raise thought-provoking questions that will be of relevance to us all. I have no doubt that it will be a thoroughly absorbing experience for all who have an interest in matters of public law and constitutional governance.

  11. On behalf of the Academy, let me express my sincere gratitude to Chief Justice Chandrachud for accepting our invitation. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in warmly welcoming Chief Justice Chandrachud to deliver his lecture.

(1) See, eg, “Judiciary committed to use technology to take justice to every door: CJI Chandrachud”, The Economic Times (25 May 2023).
(2) See “Portal to access all SC verdicts since 1950 free launched”, The Times of India (3 January 2023).
(3) See, eg, “CJI Chandrachud flags ‘abysmal’ gender ratio in legal profession”, The Times of India (26 March 2023).
(4) See Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession, “2022 CLP Award for Global Leadership: Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, chief justice of the India Supreme Court” (21 December 2022).
(5) See Justice K S Puttaswamy (Retd) and another v Union of India and others (2017) 6 MLJ 267 (SC).
(6) See Lt Col Nitisha and others v Union of India and others (Writ Petition (Civil) No 1109 of 2020) (25 March 2021).
(7) See X v The Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare Department, Government of NCT of Delhi and another (Civil Appeal No 5802 of 2022) (29 September 2022).
(8) See Sundaresh Menon, “The Rule of Law: The Path to Exceptionalism”, address at the American Law Institute’s 93rd Annual Meeting (16 May 2016) at paras 16–19.
(9) The Constitution of the State of Singapore 1963, the Republic of Singapore Independence Act 1965, and portions of the Malaysian Federal Constitution imported through the Republic of Singapore Independence Act 1965. See Yvonne Tew, Constitutional Statecraft in Asian Courts (Oxford University Press, 2020) (“Constitutional Statecraft”) at p 76.
(10) See “Singapore’s Untidy Constitution”, The Straits Times (21 December 1965).
(11) See Constitutional Statecraft at p 76.
(12) See Constitutional Statecraft at p 40.
(13) See Tan Seet Eng v Attorney-General and another matter [2016] 1 SLR 779 (“Tan Seet Eng”) at [90] and [99].
(14) See Tan Seet Eng at [11].


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