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Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon: Opening Address at the 43rd ASEAN Law Association Governing Council Meeting

The Honourable Chief Justice of Indonesia
ALA Vice-Presidents
Heads of Delegation ALA Secretary-General, and
ALA members

1.    A very good afternoon, and welcome to the 43rd ALA Governing Council Meeting.

2.   May I first convey our heartfelt condolences to our hosts upon the twin tragedies that have afflicted our family and friends in Indonesia: the deaths sustained over the course of the football match in East Java, and then the injuries and casualties arising from the earthquake in North Sumatra. Both these tragic events happened over the course of the last few days. Our thoughts and prayers are with our hosts as they struggle with the pain of these tragic events; and our gratitude that they have nonetheless continued to extend their warm hospitality to all of us. May I please ask all of those present to rise (the rest of us joining remotely please stay seated) to observe a moment of silence to commemorate all the lives lost. Thank you. May I please ask those present to be seated please.

3.   Next, let me apologise for not being able to be there in person. Over the course of the last week, I was beset by a series of relatively minor health issues that became less manageable as they all came together – beginning with an aggravated back and spine injury, then a severe case of sinusitis, which then led to a bad throat culminating in my losing my voice completely on Saturday. Thankfully, my voice is returning and each of the various issues are resolving slowly. My sincere apologies for the last minute change of plans and in particular, for missing the tribute dinner for my friend, Bapak Hatta Ali last night. I shall say more on this in a moment.

4.   Just as the 42nd Governing Council Meeting was significant because it was the first ever virtual meeting of the Governing Council, the 43rd Governing Council Meeting will be remembered as the first time that some of us have had the opportunity to meet face-to-face as an ALA family since the pandemic, in this hybrid meeting. We have our hosts, ALA Indonesia, to thank for this. You may remember that their commitment was only to host another virtual meeting this year, but they very gamely chose to give us all a foretaste of what is to come at the 2023 ALA General Assembly, by organising a farewell golf event-cum-dinner in honour of the immediate past Chair of ALA Indonesia, retired Chief Justice Muhammad Hatta Ali, and by arranging for this hybrid meeting today.

5.   As we prepare for the formal proceedings today, I wish to warmly welcome our new ALA Vice-President and Chair of ALA Thailand, the Honourable Chief Justice Chotiwat Luengprasert, who was appointed President of the Supreme Court of Thailand on 1 October 2022, and who succeeds the outgoing Chair, the Honourable Chief Justice Piyakul Boonperm. I thank Chief Justice Boonperm for steering ALA Thailand with a steady hand over the past year, and in particular for seeing to the superb organisation of another round of the ASEAN Law Institute (or “AsnLI”) Roundtable series on the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement. I look forward to working with Chief Justice Luengprasert in the remainder of my term as President.

6.   I also wish to pay a special tribute today to the immediate past Chair of ALA Indonesia, retired Chief Justice Muhammad Hatta Ali. Although my colleague, Justice Lee Seiu Kin, the Chair of ALA Singapore delivered on my behalf the tribute to Pak Hatta Ali last night, I thought it fitting to reiterate some of the points I made in my tribute and place them formally on the record of the proceedings of this meeting.

7.   Chief Justice Hatta was elected ALA President at the 2012 Bali General Assembly. Since then, he has attended every Governing Council meeting, every General Assembly and every meeting of the Council of ASEAN Chief Justices until the end of his term as Chief Justice in 2020. From the time I first met Chief Justice Hatta shortly after we both took office as Chief Justice of our respective courts, I have been struck by his warmth and cheerfulness, his dedication to the ASEAN cause, and, of course, his enduring passion for the game of golf. I am deeply grateful to Chief Justice Hatta for his genuine friendship and his strong commitment to the cause of promoting closer ties between the ASEAN judiciaries and legal communities. I wish Pak Hatta Ali a long and happy retirement, and many joyous years of golf ahead.

8.   Let me now turn to briefly mention some of the work we have undertaken since we last met in November 2021. At last year’s meeting, I emphasised the importance of our Working Groups keeping up the momentum of their work. This required us to revise various concept notes which we had previously put up to the ASEAN Secretariat (or “ASEC”) on various areas in which ASEC had requested our collaboration and assistance. I am delighted that the concept note on promoting legal convergence in the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards and international settlement agreements has since been revised and submitted to ASEC for consideration. The ALA Working Groups have also worked tirelessly to finalise the other three notes (on working with ASEC to support compliance with ASEAN instruments by ASEAN Member States, establishing a panel of experts that ASEC may consult in specific areas and promoting awareness of ASEAN legal instruments and their implementation), which have been tabled before this meeting. I look forward to hearing from the respective Chairs, along with the updated ASEAN protocol for communication with non-disputing states on issues of treaty interpretation and the concept note on the ALA Virtual Marketplace for training opportunities. I very much hope that these also can be finalised and submitted before long.

9.   The AsnLI also had a busy year. Together with ALA Malaysia and ALA Thailand, the Institute organised two further instalments of its Roundtable series on the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement. It is also poised as the anchor organisation to implement the recommendations of the ALA Working Group tasked to revise the concept note on promoting legal convergence in the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards and international settlement agreements. We shall hear more of this proposal later, along with the Institute’s 2022 annual report and proposed 2023 workplan which are being tabled for endorsement at today’s meeting.

10.   Like last year, the ALA Standing Committees and the Trade and Investment Group (or “TIG”) have also been able to meet virtually this year. They have tabled written updates on their deliberations for endorsement. I would particularly like to highlight two of these. First, the ALA Standing Committee on International Law is proposing to expand the scope of its work to specifically include areas related to climate change. Second, the TIG has, following the activities it proposed at last year’s meeting, organised a webinar in June 2022 on issues and developments relating to ASEAN free-trade agreements. Supported by AsnLI and ALA Singapore, this webinar featured speakers from Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, and a report has since been published on the AsnLI website.

11.   In the remaining term of my presidency, I wish to see through ALA’s work with ASEC, which grew out of my initial discussions with the ASEAN Secretary-General in 2019, and was further driven by the painstaking efforts of the Working Groups revising and finalising the concept notes which I mentioned earlier. I also hope to be able to complete my round of calls by visiting ALA Cambodia, and Lao PDR. The ALA Secretariat has been working with the Supreme Court of Lao PDR on constituting ALA Lao PDR, and I hope to be able to present ALA Lao PDR when we next meet in Malaysia. I am delighted that they will be represented today.

12.   On that note, ALA Malaysia has been working at a feverish pace, gearing up for what promises to be an excellent General Assembly and Governing Council Meeting in 2023, both to be held entirely in-person. While we once took this for granted, the pandemic has left us wiser in better appreciating the value of such meetings which are truly a privilege. The draft programmes for the meetings have been circulated and the views of the National Committees have been conveyed to ALA Malaysia, which will provide an update on the meetings later today.

13.   Finally, let me acknowledge and thank my colleague, Judge Paul Quan, for all his invaluable assistance as Secretary-General of ALA. The ALA Secretariat has had another busy year and its work is detailed in the Secretary-General’s report, which has been tabled before the Governing Council. I am also deeply grateful to the National Committees for working closely with him and the Secretariat to meet the priorities I outlined at last year’s meeting, in particular wrapping up the work of the various ALA Working Groups successfully.

14.   As we emerge from the pandemic, I am so very pleased to be able to renew my friendships with so many of you. I would like to again express my gratitude to our host, the Chief Justice of Indonesia and Pak Swandy and his team for making it possible to participate in this face-to-face in Bandung, Indonesia – and I cannot think of a more fitting place to do this except that I wish I were there. I am heartened that as we try to put the pandemic behind us, there will be more opportunities for us to return to our long established practice of meeting in person. I hope to see the rest of our friends in our ALA family in Malaysia next year, if not sooner. I am deeply grateful as always to the Vice-Presidents, the ALA National Committees, and each and every member of the ALA family for extending their fullest support to me and the Secretary-General. I have no doubt that this will be yet another fruitful meeting and I very much look forward to a rich discussion later in the course of this afternoon.

15.   Thank you so very much.   
2022/10/10

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