Wee Chong Jin



Wee Chong Jin (b. 28 September 1917, Georgetown, Penang–d. 5 June 2005) was the first Singaporean and Asian to head Singapore’s Supreme Court judiciary when he was appointed as chief justice in 1963.1 He held the position until his retirement in 1990, making him the longest-serving chief justice in the Commonwealth.2 A man of many achievements, he was conferred the honorary doctorate in civil law from Oxford University in 1987.3 Wee passed away on 5 June 2005 after battling lung cancer for a year.4

Early life
Born in Penang on 28 September 1917 to a businessman, Wee received his early education at Penang Free School.5 In October 1935, he left for England to read law at St John’s 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 November 1938 and received a McMahon Law Scholarship the following year.7 Wee remained in England for one more year to do Chambers, a requirement before he could practise law in the then Straits Settlements colony.8 When he returned to Penang in 1940, he became an advocate and solicitor but later came to Singapore in 1941 to join Allen & Gledhill, a top expatriate firm, becoming the firm’s first Asian member.9 He returned to Penang during the Japanese Occupation (1942–45) of Singapore.10


Wee was a good sportsman. As a student, he excelled in cricket and badminton.11 He represented his college in both games and was even captain for the badminton team during his third year of college.12 In his later years, Wee was an avid golfer,13 serving as president of the Singapore Golf Association from 1962 to 2002.14

Achievements
Wee returned to Singapore after the war in 1946 and rejoined his previous firm.15 The firm’s senior partner, David Keri Walters, recommended Wee for junior partnership but this was declined by the rest of the firm’s European partners. Walters left Alen & Gledhill and set up D.K. Walters & Co. and made Wee his junior partner.16 With the death of Walters in 1950, Wee joined Wee Swee Teow & Co. until he was appointed to the bench of the Singapore Supreme Court on 14 August 1957 as a puisne judge, replacing retiring justice, C. H. Whitton. Only 39 years old at the time, Wee became the first local and the youngest member of the Singapore bar to be appointed to that position.17 On 5 January 1963, Wee was sworn into office as Singapore’s first Asian chief justice, replacing Alan Rose; at the age of 45, Wee was the youngest to become chief justice.18


In 1966, Wee chaired the Constitutional Commission that 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.19 When the Presidential Council for Minority Rights was established in 1973, Wee was appointed its inaugural chairman, a position he held until July 1991.20 On 1 August 1991, Wee was appointed by then President Wee Kim Wee as the chairman of the first Presidential Council for Religious Harmony.21 Wee was also instrumental in the setting up of the Singapore Academy of Law and was appointed as its first president after its establishment in 1988.22 For his tremendous contributions to the Singapore judiciary during Singapore’s formative years, he was conferred the honorary doctorate in civil law from Oxford University in 1987.23

In March 1985, Wee became the first chief justice to be appointed acting president upon the resignation of then President Devan Nair.24 He had stood in for heads of state – such as Yusof Ishak and Benjamin Sheares – when they were either away or indisposed.25 Wee was the only chief justice in Singapore to have his tenureship extended three times following his constitutional retirement at the age of 65 in 1982. It was extended for a total of eight years. According to the Singapore Constitution, the term of a Supreme Court judge may be extended by the president, as advised by the prime minister.26 By the time Wee retired in September 1990, he had served as chief justice for 27 years,27 making him also the longest-serving chief justice of the Commonwealth.28 He was succeeded by Yong Pung How.29 After retirement he became a legal consultant and was the director of United Overseas Bank until 2000.30

During his 27 years in office, Wee wrote a total of 326 judgements, an average of about 10 a year.31 In 1992, together with ambassador David Marshall, he was made a lifelong honorary member and fellow of the Singapore Academy of Law, the highest honour in the legal profession.32

Career
33
Jun 1938:
B. A. (Hons), St John’s College, Cambridge University

1938: Called to the bar at Middle Temple, England
1940: Called to the Bar, Penang
14 Aug 1957: Becomes Singapore’s first Asian judge
5 Jan 1963: Sworn into office as Singapore’s first Asian chief justice
1973–1991: Chairman, Presidential Council for Minority Rights
1982: Tenure as chief justice expires but it is extended for two years

1985: Tenure as chief justice is extended a second time
27–29 Mar 1985: Acting president of Singapore
Jun 1987: Conferred honorary doctorate in civil law, Oxford University, UK
1988: Tenure as chief justice extended a third time; appointed as the first president of the Singapore Academy of Law
27 Sep 1990: Retires from judiciary after 27 years in office
Aug 1991: Awarded Distinguished Service Order
1992: Appointed as chairman, Presidential Council for Religious Harmony
18 Apr 1992: Becomes lifelong honorary member and fellow, Singapore Academy of Law

Family
34
Parents:
Wee Gim Puay and Lim Paik Yew

Wife: Cecilia Mary Henderson
Children: Veronica, Laurence, John and Patrick



Authors

Marsita Omar & Azizah Sidek




References
1. Peh, S. H. (2005, June 6). Ex-CJ and 1st Asian judge in S’pore dies. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Low, K. T. (Ed). (2003). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, pp. 433–434. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)

2. A giant of Singapore legal history. (2005, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Tan, B. T. (1992, June). Citation for Dr Wee Chong Jin by the attorney-general, Mr Tan Boon Teik. Singapore Academy of Law Journal, 4(3), 3–4. (Call no.: RSING 340.05 SALJ)
4. Peh, S. H. (2005, June 6). Ex-CJ and 1st Asian judge in S’pore dies. The Straits Times, p. 3; Lee, L., & Toh, E. (2005, June 9). Farewell to ex-CJ as old Supreme Court closes. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Tan, B. T. (1992, June). Citation for Dr Wee Chong Jin by the Attorney-General, Mr Tan Boon Teik. Singapore Academy of Law Journal, 4(3), 3–4. (Call no.: RSING 340.05 SALJ); Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, pp. 188–192. (Call no.: RSING q920.05957 CHE)
6. Thian, Y. S., Chong, C. C., & Lim, S. (Eds.). (2002). In session: Supreme Court Singapore: The building, her heritage and her people. Singapore: Supreme Court, p. 70. (Call no.: RSING 347.5957035 IN); Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, pp. 188–192. (Call no.: RSING q920.05957 CHE)
7. Thian, Y. S., Chong, C. C., & Lim, S. (Eds.). (2002). In session: Supreme Court Singapore: The building, her heritage and her people. Singapore: Supreme Court, p. 70. (Call no.: RSING 347.5957035 IN)
8. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, pp. 188–192. (Call no.: RSING q920.05957 CHE)
9. Thian, Y. S., Chong, C. C., & Lim, S. (Eds.). (2002) In session: Supreme Court Singapore: The building, her heritage and her people. Singapore: Supreme Court, p. 70. (Call no.: RSING 347.5957035 IN); Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, pp. 188–192. (Call no.: RSING q920.05957 CHE)
10. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, pp. 188–192. (Call no.: RSING q920.05957 CHE)
11. A giant of Singapore legal history. (2005, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, pp. 188–192. (Call no.: RSING q920.05957 CHE)
12. A giant of Singapore legal history. (2005, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, pp. 188- 192. (Call no.: RSING q920.05957 CHE)
13. Thian, Y. S., Chong, C. C., & Lim, S. (Eds.). (2002). In session: Supreme Court Singapore: The building, her heritage and her people. Singapore: Supreme Court, p. 70. (Call no.: RSING 347.5957035 IN)
14. A giant of Singapore legal history. (2005, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Low, K. T. (Ed). ( 2003). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, pp. 433–434. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
15. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, pp. 188–192. (Call no.: RSING q920.05957 CHE)
16. Thian, Y. S., Chong, C. C., & Lim, S. (Eds.). (2002) In session: Supreme Court Singapore: The building, her heritage and her people. Singapore: Supreme Court, p. 70. (Call no.: RSING 347.5957035 IN); Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, pp. 188–192. (Call no.: RSING q920.05957 CHE)
17. Thian, Y. S., Chong, C. C., & Lim, S. (Eds.). (2002). In session: Supreme Court Singapore: The building, her heritage and her people. Singapore: Supreme Court, p. 70. (Call no.: RSING 347.5957035 IN); Tan, B. T. (1992, June). Citation for Dr Wee Chong Jin by the attorney-general, Mr Tan Boon Teik. Singapore Academy of Law Journal, 4(3), 3-4. (Call no.: RSING 340.05 SALJ)
18. Thian, Y. S., Chong, C. C., & Lim, S. (Eds.). (2002) In session: Supreme Court Singapore: The building, her heritage and her people. Singapore: Supreme Court, p. 70. (Call no.: RSING 347.5957035 IN); Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, pp. 188–192. (Call no.: RSING q920.05957 CHE)
19. Tan, B. T. (1992, June). Citation for Dr Wee Chong Jin by the Attorney-General, Mr Tan Boon Teik. Singapore Academy of Law Journal, 4(3), 3–4. (Call no.: RSING 340.05 SALJ); Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, pp. 188–192. (Call no.: RSING q920.05957 CHE)
20. Tan, B. T. (1992, June). Citation for Dr Wee Chong Jin by the Attorney-General, Mr Tan Boon Teik. Singapore Academy of Law Journal, 4(3), 3–4. (Call no.: RSING 340.05 SALJ); Low, K. T. (Ed). (2003). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, pp. 433–434.(Call no.: RSING q920.05957 WHO)
21. First religious harmony body appointed. (1992, August 2). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Tan, B. T. (1992, June). Citation for Dr Wee Chong Jin by the Attorney-General, Mr Tan Boon Teik. Singapore Academy of Law Journal, 4(3), 3–4. (Call no.: RSING 340.05 SALJ); Low, K. T. (Ed). (2003). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, pp. 433–434.(Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
23. Tan, B. T. (1992, June). Citation for Dr Wee Chong Jin by the Attorney-General, Mr Tan Boon Teik. Singapore Academy of Law Journal, 4(3), 3–4. (Call no.: RSING 340.05 SALJ)
24. Koh, J. (2010). The first chief: Wee Chong Jin: A judicial portrait. Singapore: Academy Pub., pp. 151–152. (Call no.: RSING 347.59570353 KOH)
25. Peh, S. H. (2005, June 6). Ex-CJ and 1st Asian judge in S’pore dies. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Koh, J. (2010). The first chief: Wee Chong Jin: A judicial portrait. Singapore: Academy Pub., pp. 151–152 (Call no.: RSING 347.59570353 KOH)
27. A giant of Singapore legal history. (2005, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, B. T. (1992, June). Citation for Dr Wee Chong Jin by the attorney-general, Mr Tan Boon Teik. Singapore Academy of Law Journal, 4(3), 3–4. (Call no.: RSING 340.05 SALJ)
28. A giant of Singapore legal history. (2005, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, B. T. (1992, June). Citation for Dr Wee Chong Jin by the attorney-general, Mr Tan Boon Teik. Singapore Academy of Law Journal, 4(3), 3-4. (Call no.: RSING 340.05 SALJ)
29. A giant of Singapore legal history. (2005, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Low, K. T. (Ed). (2003). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, pp. 433–434. (Call no.: RSING q920.05957 WHO)
31. A giant of Singapore legal history. (2005, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 5; Lim, A. (2000, December 25). The case of the efficient chief justice. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Ex-CJ Wee, Marshall honoured. (1992, April 20). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. A giant of Singapore legal history. (2005, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 5; In memory of a legal luminary. (2005, June 8). The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, B. T. (1992, June). Citation for Dr Wee Chong Jin by the attorney-general, Mr Tan Boon Teik. Singapore Academy of Law Journal, 4(3), 3–4. (Call no.: RSING 340.05 SALJ); Koh, J. (2010). The first chief: Wee Chong Jin: A judicial portrait. Singapore: Academy Pub., pp. 151–152. (Call no.: RSING 347.59570353 KOH)
34. Peh, S. H. (2005, June 6). Ex-CJ and 1st Asian judge in S’pore dies. The Straits Times, p. 3; Lee, L. (2005, June 9). Farewell to ex-CJ as old Supreme Court closes. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Dr Wee Chong Jin: Chief Justice 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)

Wee, C. J. (1980). The legal profession in Singapore – past, present and future. Singapore: Malayan Law Journal.
(Call no: RSING 340.0235957 WEE)



The information in this article is valid at 2016 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.

Subject
Personalities
Law and government>>Jurisprudence
Wee, Chong Jin, 1917-2005
Personalities>>Biographies
Judges--Singapore--Biography