CJ Chan has served as Chief Justice for only 6 years, compared to his predecessor Yong Pung How's reign of 16 years. His successor Sundaresh Menon, 49, was Attorney General for only 21 months. He was appointed Judge of Appeal just one month ago. Since the mandatory of retirement for a Chief Justice is 65, Menon will be around for at least another 15 years.
Among his many accolades, Chan was lauded for being a champion of good judicial sense. In 2002, NSman Chong was charged with being in possession of a car while under the influence of alcohol. What actually happened was that he was drinking a beer in his father's car, parked near the family home, and dozed off. The engine wasn't even running. The Singapore Police Force has a perverse sense of humour. When Chong was caught for DUI in 2009, he faced jail time as it counted as a second offence. In a rare instance of the spirit of the law triumphing over the letter of the law, Chan ruled that the previous conviction was a weak antecedent to justify a jail term for the case at hand, adding that if Chong's story raised "a question of reasonable doubt, then he ought to be entitled to that doubt".
Unfortunately doubt was not the issue in 1997 when the Workers' Party complained to the police that Goh Chok Tong, Tony Tan and then Brigadier-General (NS) Lee Hsien Loong were seen inside the Cheng San GRC polling station on Polling Day. Directed by Law Minister S. Jayakumar to provide a formal opinion, Chan, as Attorney General of the day, submitted that "while it is illegal to be within 200 metres of a polling station unless you are voting, if is not illegal if you are inside." It was one of those make-or-break career moves. If an offence was indeed committed, Goh Chok Tong et al could have been barred from contesting an election. When you're right, no one remembers. When you're wrong, no one forgets. Too bad.
A curious aside is that we now have a Chief Justice, a Law Minister and a Deputy Prime Minister cum Minister for Finance from the Indian minority. All we need now is a new Attorney General to be appointed from the same ethnic group, and Singapore will be truly ready for an Indian Prime Minister. Our multi-racial nation has progressed far indeed, although one cantankerous old coot may not be excited with the pace of development.