Wee Chong Jin
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Wee Chong Jin (b. 28 September 1917, Georgetown, Penang - d. 5 June 2005) was the first Singaporean and Asian to head Singapores Supreme Court Judiciary when he was appointed Chief Justice in 1963. As Chief Justice, until he retired in 1990, he held the record for being the longest serving Chief Justice in the Commonwealth. A man of many achievements, he was conferred the honorary doctorate in civil law from Oxford University in 1987. Wee Chong Jin passed away on 5 June 2005 due to complications arising from a year of battling lung cancer.
Born in Penang on 28 September 1917 to a businessman, Wee Chong Jin was educated at Penang Free School and went on to study at Raffles Institution. He furthered his education in England in October 1935 by reading law at St. Johns College, Cambridge University. He graduated in June 1938 and was awarded the prestigious McMahon Prize by the college. He was called to the English Bar by the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, England in 1939. He remained in England for one more year to do Chambers, a requirement before he could practice law in the then Straits Settlement Colony. When he returned to Penang in 1940, he became an advocate and solicitor but later came to Singapore to join Allen & Gledhill, a top expatriate firm in Singapore on 2 January 1941. He returned to Penang during the Japanese occupation of Singapore.
Wee was a good sportsman. As a student, Wee was active in sport, excelling in cricket and badminton. He played both games for his college and was even captain for badminton in his third year there. And in his later years, he was an avid golfer. He was the President of the Singapore Golf Association from 1962 to 2002.
Wee Chong Jin came back to Singapore after the war in 1946 and returned to his previous firm but he was declined by the other partners the position of junior partner, except for David Keri Walters. Walters left Alen & Gledhill and set up D.K. Walters & Co and made Wee his junior partner. With the death of D. K. Walters in 1950, Wee joined Wee Swee Teow & Co. until he was appointed to the Bench of the Singapore Supreme Cout on 14 August 1957 as a Puisne Judge, replacing retiring Justice C.H. Whitton. He was only 39 years and also the first local and the youngest member of the Singapore Bar to be appointed in that position. On 5 January 1963, Wee Chong Jin was sworn into office to become Singapore's first Asian Chief Justice to replace Sir Alan Rose and at the age of forty-four, he was the youngest to achieve that position.
In 1966, Wee Chong Jin chaired the Constitutional Commission which was formed shortly after Singapore's independence to consider and recommend measures to be included in the Constitution of Singapore for the protection of racial and religious minorities. For his tremendous contributions to Singapore judiciary during Singapores formative years, he was conferred the honorary doctorate in civil law from Oxford University in 1987.
Wee was considered a man of many firsts. In 1978, his criticism that lawyers had poor drafting of their documents led to the Law Faculty to include written tests and interviews as part of its entry requirements.
In March 1985, Wee was the first Chief Justice to be appointed acting president upon the resignation of then President Devan Nair. Wee Chong Jin had also stepped in when head-of-states were either away or indisposed. He had stood in for Yusof Ishak when he was Yang di-Pertuan Negara and also for President Benjamin Sheares. Wee Chong Jin was the only Chief Justice in Singapore to have his tenureship extended three times following his constitutional retirement at 65 in 1982. It was extended for a total of eight years. According to the Singapore Constitution, a Supreme Court judges term may be extended by the President, as advised by the Prime Minister. By the time Wee retired in September 1990, he had served as Chief Justice for 27 years. He was the longest serving Chief Justice of the Commonwealth. He was succeeded by Chief Justice Yong Pung How. After retirement he became a legal consultant and was the Director of United Overseas Bank Ltd until 2000.
During his 27 years in office, Wee wrote a total of 326 judgements, an average of about 10 a year. In 1992, together with Ambassador David Marshall, he was made an Honorary Member and Fellow of the Singapore Academy of Law for life, the highest honour in the legal profession. The only other person to be bestowed that honour was Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.
June 1938 : B. A. (Hons), St Johns College, Cambridge
1938 : Called to the Bar at Middle Temple, England
1940 : Called to the Bar, Penang
14 Aug 1957 : Became Singapores first Asian appointed as judge
5 Jan 1963 : Sworn into office as Singapores first Asian Chief Justice
1982 : At 65 years, his tenure of office as Chief Justice expired but extended for a two year period
1985 : Second extension of tenure as Chief Justice
27- 29 Mar 1985 : Acting President, Singapore
Jun 1987 : Conferred Honorary Doctorate in Civil Law, Oxford University, UK
1988 : Third extension of tenure as Chief Justice
27 Sep 1990 : Retired from judiciary after 27 years in office
Aug 1991 : Awarded Distinguished Service Order, National Day Award
1992 : Chairman Presidential Council for Religious Harmony
18 Apr 1992 : Conferred Honorary Member and Fellow for life, Singapore Academy of Law
Parents : Wee Gim Puay, Lim Paik Yew
Wife : Cecilia Mary Henderson
Children : Veronica, Laurence, John and Patrick
Marsita Omar & Azizah Sidek
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(Call no.: RSING 340.05 SALJ)
Ex-CJ Wee, Marshall honoured. (1992, April 20). The Business Times. Retrieved April 24, 2007, from Factiva database.
First religious harmony body appointed (1992, 2 Aug). The Straits Times. Retrieved on March 7, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
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(Call no.: SING 920.05957 WHO)
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(Call no.: SING 347.5957035 IN)
Dr Wee Chong Jin: Chief Justic of Singapore 1963-1990 - a tribute (2005 June). Inter Se, 16-19.
(Call no.: RSING 340.0605957 IS).
Farewell reference for the Honourable the Chief Justice Mr Wee Chong Jin. (1990 December). Malayan Law Journal, 3, cxiii-cvx.
(Call no.: RSING 340.05 MLJ).
Mr. Justice Wee Chong Jin (1957 August). Malayan Law Journal, 23 (8) xli-xlii.
(Call no.: RCLOS 340.05 MLJ).
Remembering the late CJ Wee Chong Jin: the forum of senior counsel reflects on the late Dr Wee Chong Jin (2005 August). Law gazette: an official publication of the Law Society of Singapore, 19-21.
(Call no.: RSING 340.095957 SLG)
Singaproe's new Chief Justice (1963 January). Malayan Law Journal, iii
(Call no: RCLOS 340.05 MLJ)
The information in this article is valid at 2007 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please the Library for further reading materials on the topic.