Singapore’s former chief justice Yong Pung How died on Thursday (9 January) morning at the age of 93, the Supreme Court has confirmed.
He leaves behind a wife and daughter.
Mr Yong, whose career included stints as a banker and a university chancellor, served as Singapore’s second chief justice from 1990 to 2006. He was known for his tough nature and reforms that improved the efficiency of Singapore courts.
When he retired in 2006, the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Law S Jayakumar thanked Mr Yong in Parliament for building Singapore’s “judiciary and legal system to vigilantly uphold the rule of law and administration of justice”.
Highlighting Mr Yong’s “lasting and outstanding contribution”, Mr Jayakumar talked about his “wide ranging reforms to build up the legal infrastructure and develop local jurisprudence relevant to Singapore’s context”.
The minister also mentioned Mr Yong’s contributions to the country’s judiciary system, which include “took a series of measures to clear the backlog of cases, streamlined the rules of court, and improved efficiency through extensive use of IT”.
He added, “As a result of his leadership, we have today a judiciary that has a high standing internationally.”
Career spanning close to half a decade
Based on the Supreme Court website, Mr Yong was born on 11 April 1926 in Kuala Lumpur. He went on to get a Bachelor of Arts degree from Cambridge University in 1949, after which he was qualified as a barrister-at-law of the Inner Temple in 1951.
Mr Yong first became an advocate and solicitor in the Federation of Malaya in 1952 and in Singapore in 1964. He was also a partner at his father’s law firm Shook Lin & Bok from 1952 to 1970.
In 1989, he was appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court, before being promoted to the Chief Justice of Singapore in 1990 at the age of 63. He was concurrently the President of the Singapore Academy of Law, the President of the Legal Service Commission and the Chairman of the Presidential Council of Minority Rights.
In his career that spans for nearly 50 years, Mr Yong’s appointment included managing director of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation from 1981 to 1983, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore from 1982 to 1983, and deputy chairman of Singapore Press Holdings from 1984 to 1989.
In 2010 he was selected as the chancellor of the Singapore Management University.
Law Minister pays tribute
Following the news of his passing was made public, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam took to his Facebook on Thursday to pay tribute to Mr Yong.
Calling him a “great” and “selfless titan”, Mr Shanmugam said that Singapore’s judiciary “system is what it is today, because of his unparalleled vision and foresight.”
“Former Chief Justice Yong Pung How was a great man. A selfless titan, who dedicated himself to building up Singapore, and her institutions. His achievements are well recorded in multiple spheres, beyond the law,” he wrote.
He added, “CJ Yong shook the Bar out of its lethargy and modernised it. Its old habits were changed, sometimes kicking and screaming. And he transformed our judiciary, through a relentless push for progress and excellence – within a decade of taking office, he introduced close to 1,000 initiatives in the then-Subordinate Courts!”
“His efforts contributed greatly to Singapore now being regarded as a trusted international legal centre, with a strong judiciary. Our system is what it is today, because of his unparalleled vision and foresight.”