The office of the Attorney-General in Singapore can be traced back to the establishment of the Straits Settlements by the British Government in 1867. Prior to 1867, the function of legal adviser to the Government was exercised by the Recorder of the Prince of Wales Island (Penang), Malacca and Singapore from 1826 to 1855, the Recorder of Singapore from 1855 to 1864 and the Crown Counsel, Singapore from 1864 to 1867.
Sir Thomas Braddell was appointed in 1867 as the first Attorney-General of the newly-created Straits Settlements. He was based in Singapore while his Solicitor-General, Mr Daniel Logan, was based in Penang.
With the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, the responsibility for rendering legal advice to the British Military Administration lay with its Chief Legal Officer until the establishment on 1 April 1946 of the Crown Colony of Singapore and the appointment of Sir Edward John Davies, K.C. as the Attorney-General of the Colony.
Mr. Ahmad Bin Mohamad Ibrahim was the first Attorney-General of independent Singapore in 1965 after separation from Malaysia. He carried on as Attorney-General until 1967. Apart from playing a huge role in the merger talks with Malaya, he also drafted the Women’s Charter, Intestate Succession Act, Administration of Muslim Law Act, and other statutes that formed the foundation of the legal system in Singapore.
He passed on the baton to Mr. Tan Boon Teik, who took on the role as acting Attorney-General in 1967, before assuming the role officially in 1968. Mr Tan went on to serve for 25 years, making him Singapore’s longest-serving Attorney-General. Following Mr Ahmad Ibrahim’s footsteps, he worked closely with the founding fathers to lay the groundwork for Singapore to grow as a young nation. He developed the legal landscape by overseeing the Revised Editions of the Laws of Singapore in 1970 and 1985, guiding the setup of the Singapore Academy of Law and the Singapore International Arbitration Centre.
It was also during this time that Mr Chan Sek Keong became the third local Attorney-General in 1992. Mr Chan served for 14 years and in his time, made many valuable changes to the legal landscape. He was the Chairman of the Committee on restricting the Supply of Lawyers, which introduced the capping of law graduates and practising lawyers to raise the standards of the legal profession. Mr Chan also initiated the streamlining of court procedures for civil cases to shorten trial times.
During his tenure, he appeared in court twice to argue for two cases involving the Official Secrets Act (OSA). He was also responsible for the introduction of the Assistant Public Prosecutor (APP) scheme, and strengthened ties with regional prosecution agencies.
In 1995, the International Affairs Division was set up to take on a more extensive and specialised role in public international law and to contribute to the enhancement of Singapore’s role in regional and global legal developments.
In 2006, Mr Chao Hick Tin became the fourth local Attorney-General. During his two-year term as Attorney-General, he played an integral role in the Pedra Branca case, and was one of the founding members of the ASEAN Law Association.
Similarly, Mr Walter Woon also served a two-year term (from 2008 to 2010). He saw the benefits of reaching out and maintaining close relations with law schools to draw talent. He also initiated the split of a very large Criminal Justice Division (CJD) to form 2 units— CJD (for serious crimes) and the State Prosecution Division (for lesser offences). He also introduced an alternative to prosecution called the conditional warning, and set up the Centre for International Law @ NUS to improve International Law expertise in Singapore and the region.
In 2010, Mrs Koh Juat Jong held the fort as acting Attorney-General before Mr Sundaresh Menon was sworn in as the sixth local Attorney-General. During Mr Menon’s term, he laid the groundwork for several initiatives to improve AGC as a whole: the Code of Practice for the conduct of criminal proceedings, increasing access to defence counsel for those wrongfully accused, and mental health screening for offenders. He also rolled out the revised Criminal Procedure Code in 2010.
When Mr Steven Chong took over in 2012, he followed through on Mr Menon’s ideas, one of which being the Code of Practice for the Conduct of Criminal Proceedings by the Prosecution and the Defence. The other initiative by Mr Menon that he followed-up with was when he persuaded the Government to introduce in Parliament the Attorney-General (Additional Functions) Bill 2014. He also launched what became known as the Appropriate Adults Scheme, and introduced fundamental changes to in AGC’s public communications efforts.
In 2014, Mr V K Rajah was sworn in as the eighth local Attorney-General. During his term, he introduced initiatives to improve institutional efficiency and strengthened specialist prosecutorial capabilities. He helmed a committee to develop the legal sector in Singapore, and directed legal work on the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur Rail project with Malaysia. Within AGC, he set up the AGC Academy to raise professional standards of AGC divisions, and introduced digital platforms that prosecutors could use to increase productivity.
The present Attorney-General is Mr Lucien Wong who assumed office on 14 January 2017.
The AGC’s longevity is matched by its equally varied locations over the years. In the early 1900s, the AGC was located at 1 Empress Place, in the first floor of the building now known as the Asian Civilisations Museum.
As the need for office space grew in 1959 with Singapore attaining self-government, it moved into the former Ministry of Labour Building, currently the Family Justice Courts Building.
The next move for AGC took place in 1971 where it occupied the former Public Works Department Building on High Street, which is presently part of the Parliament House Complex.
The AGC was to remain at High Street for about two decades before the next big move to The Adelphi Building located at 1 Coleman Street in 1991.
In 2013, the AGC moved into a newly-completed 15-storey office building at 1 Upper Pickering Street. Its new home rises on the former site of the first high-rise public housing blocks built by the Singapore Improvement Trust in 1952.