Yong Pung How

Yong Pung How (b. 11 April 1926, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia–d. 9 January 2020, Singapore) is a former chief justice of Singapore.1 Prior to his judicial career, Yong was the chairman and chief executive officer of the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC). He has also held numerous public appointments including those with the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (now known as GIC), Monetary Authority of Singapore and Singapore Broadcasting Corporation. As the country’s top judge, he introduced a slew of measures, transforming Singapore’s judiciary into a world-class legal system.

Early life
Yong is the only son of prominent lawyer Yong Shook Lin2 and Hong Kong-born Yu Tak Fong. There are five daughters in the family.3 He received his Cambridge School Certificate at the age of 14 from Victoria Institution (Kuala Lumpur) in 1940.4 During World War II, he took on various jobs – as a messenger, bank clerk and labourer at an airfield.5 After the war, Yong read law at Downing College, Cambridge.6 There, he was a fellow student of Lee Kuan Yew, and both of them obtained a first in their first-year law examination. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Cambridge University in 1949, and qualified as a barrister-at-law of London’s Inner Temple in 1951.7

Lawyer turned banker
After Yong returned to Kuala Lumpur in 1952, he practised mainly criminal law8 as a partner of law firm Shook Lin & Bok,9 of which his father was a founding partner. He expanded the firm in the areas of corporate and commercial practice10 and remained there as a partner until 1970.11

In 1953, Yong was appointed by then Governor of Singapore John Fearns Nicoll as the sole arbitrator in a labour dispute between the government and the General Clerical Services and Telecommunications workers.12 Lee Kuan Yew, on the other hand, represented the union. From 1955 to 1960, Yong served as the chairman of the Malayan Public Services Arbitration Tribunal, and chaired the Malaysian Industrial Court from 1961 to 1967. He also played a key role in politics from 1956 to 1959 as a leading member of the Malayan Chinese Association, and as a member of the Alliance Party’s national executive committee. Yong left the political scene in 1959.13

In 1964, Yong was admitted as an advocate and solicitor in Singapore, and established the Singapore branch of Messrs Shook Lin & Bok.14 That year, he was also made chairman of Malayan Airways. In 1966, Yong became vice-chairman of Malayan Banking Berhad – a position he assumed until 1970.15 Following the Kuala Lumpur communal riots in 1969, Yong migrated to Singapore with his family.16

In 1971, he left the legal world to join OCBC as a director. Yong was offered the post of Supreme Court judge by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1976, but he declined.17 From 1981 to 1983, Yong was seconded from OCBC to help form the Government Investment Corporation (GIC), a sovereign wealth fund managed by the Singapore government. In 1983, Yong was appointed OCBC’s chairman and chief executive officer. His vision to build a global bank met with resounding success, with OCBC expanding its network to comprise 88 branches and offices worldwide under his leadership.18

Chief justiceship
In early 1989, Lee asked Yong to become the chief justice, based on strong recommendations from four judges. Despite taking a huge pay cut, from over S$2 million a year as a banker, to less than $300,000 as a judge, Yong agreed out of a sense of duty to the country.19

On 1 July 1989, Yong returned to the legal world as a Supreme Court judge, before moving on to become the chief justice on 28 September 1990. When Yong assumed chief justiceship, there was a backlog of some 2,000 suits waiting to be heard in the High Court. At the rate at which the legal system was working then, it would have taken another five to six years before the suits were heard. To improve the judicial process, Yong introduced some radical changes to the courts such as streamlining procedures and leveraging on technology. He increased the number of courts and set up specialist courts, while the salaries for judges were raised to attract competent legal talents. He also implemented the Justice’s Law Clerk scheme and a system of senior counsel. By the mid-1990s, the backlog was cleared. In the process, Yong successfully transformed the Singapore legal system into one of the best in the world. Today, Singapore's judiciary is a model for many countries including England.20

Simple matters involving minor legal arguments, such as bankruptcy petitions, were transferred to the registrars and the Subordinate Courts. Longstanding procedures were simplified to speed up the trial process, and pre-trial conferences were introduced to help courts monitor the progress of cases. Judicial commissioners were also appointed to clear the backlog.21

The Electronic Filing System was implemented in 2000. The system was aimed at helping the courts cope with limited storage space as well as allowing law firms to file and serve documents electronically. Technology was also brought into the courtroom, allowing for video conferencing and multimedia presentation of evidence.22

When he made his first speech as chief justice, he abolished the traditional wigs and terms of address, such as “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”, for Supreme Court judges.23 Yong heard and determined many cases, sitting initially as a first-instance judge and then also in an appellate capacity. Many of these decisions formed judicial precedents.24

Other positions
In accordance with the Constitution of Singapore, Yong, as the chief justice, was also president of the Legal Service Commission and chairman of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. In 1990, he was appointed as president of the Singapore Academy of Law.25

Retirement
After serving almost 17 years as chief justice, Yong retired on 10 April 2006 and was succeeded by Chan Sek Keong.26

Family
In 1955, Yong married Cheang Wei-Woo,27 the daughter of a Hong Kong businessman and graduate of the London School of Economics, whom he met in London in 1950 while they were students.28 The couple have a daughter, Yong Ying-I. In 2001, Yong Ying-I became the second woman to be appointed a permanent secretary in Singapore when she took over at the Ministry of Manpower.29

Timeline
1955–1959: Chairman, Malayan Public Services Arbitration Tribunal.30
1957: Member of the working party that prepared citizenship proposals later incorporated by the Reid Commission into the first Malaysian Constitution.
Late 1950s and early 1960s: Member, International Commission of Jurists.
1959–1966: Chairman’s panel, Malayan Industrial Court.31
1964–1969: Chairman, Malayan Airways Ltd and Malaysia-Singapore Airlines Ltd.32
1966–1971: Deputy chairman of Malayan Banking Berhad.33
1970: Attended an Advanced Management Programme at Harvard
Business School.34
1971–1981: Chairman and managing director, Singapore International Merchant Bankers Ltd, an OCBC affiliate.35
1972–1981: Member, Securities Industry Council.36
1975: Fellow, Malaysian Institute of Management.37
1981–1983: Managing director, Government of Singapore Investment Corporation;38
1982–1983: Managing director, Monetary Authority of Singapore.39
1982–1983: Deputy chairman, Board of Commissioners of Currency, Singapore.40
1983–1989: Member, Board of Commissioners of Currency, Singapore.41
1982–1983: Alternate governor for Singapore, International Monetary Fund.42
1980–1983: Member, provisional Mass Rapid Transit Authority.43
1983–1985: Director, Mass Rapid Transit Corporation Ltd.44
1972: Director, OCBC.45
1977–1980: Vice-chairman, OCBC.46
1983–1989: Chairman and chief executive officer, OCBC.47
1984–1989: Deputy chairman, Singapore Press Holdings Ltd.48
1985–1986: President, Asian Pacific Bankers Club.49
1985–1989: Chairman, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.50
1985–1989: Director, Temasek Holdings (Pte) Ltd.51
1987–1989: Director, Singapore Symphony Orchestra.52
1988–1989: Founding chairman, Institute of Policy Studies.53
1989: Conferred the Distinguished Service Order.54
1989: Judge of the Supreme Court.55
1990–2006: Chief justice of Singapore.56
1991–2006: Chairman, Presidential Council for Minority Rights.57
1990–2006: President, Legal Service Commission.
1990–2006: President, Singapore Academy of Law.
July, Sept and Nov 1991: Acting president of Singapore.58
1997: Honorary bencher of the Inn.59
1999: Accorded the highest state honour, Order of Temasek (First Class).60
2001: Conferred honorary Doctor of Laws degree by National University of Singapore.61
2007: Non-executive director, board of Singapore Press Holdings.62
2010–2015: Chancellor, Singapore Management University.63



Author

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia



References
1. Kwek Mean Luck et al eds., Hall of Justice: Supreme Court Singapore (Singapore: Supreme Court, Republic of Singapore, 2006), 10 (Call no. RSING q347.5957035 HAL); Supreme Court, Singapore, Supreme Court Singapore: Excellence into the Next Millennium (Singapore: Supreme Court, 1999), 19 (Call no. RSING 347.5957035 SIN); Low Kar Tiang, ed., Who’s Who in Singapore 2006 (Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, 2006), 579–80 (Call no. RSING 920.05957 WHO); Hoo Sheau Peng et al eds., Speeches and Judgments of Chief Justice Yong Pung How ( Singapore: FT Law & Tax Asia Pacific, 1996), 3, 13 (Call no. RSING 347.595703534 YON); Serene Lim, “Yong Left an Impact on Singapore Law, Finance and Govt,” Straits Times, 10 January 2020, A8; “Milestones,” Straits Times, 10 January 2020, A9. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
2. “Malayans’ Success at University,” Singapore Free Press, 22 June 1949, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 3; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
4. Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80; Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 3–6.
5. Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, iii–iv, 3–6.
6. Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80; Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 3.
7. Kwek et al., Hall of Justice, 10; Supreme Court, Singapore, Excellence into the Next Millennium, 19; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80; Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 3.
8. Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 3.
9. Selina Lum, “CJ Yong Overhauled Justice System,” Straits Times, 1 April 2006, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Supreme Court, Singapore, Excellence into the Next Millennium, 19.
10. Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, iii–iv, 3–6.
11. Kwek, et al., Hall of Justice, 10; Supreme Court, Singapore, Excellence into the Next Millennium, 19; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
12. “Such a Rush for Mr. Kandasamy,” Straits Times, 11 April 1953, 4; “Clerks’ Pay Ultimatum to Government Ends Today,” Straits Times, 10 October 1953, 5; Amy Balan, “Yong Pung How – Giving His Best,” Business Times, 8 June 1989, 19 (From NewspaperSG); Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80; Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 4.
13. Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 4.
14. Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 3.
15. Supreme Court, Singapore, Excellence into the Next Millennium, 19.
16. Lee Kuan Yew, From Third World to First: The Singapore Story 1965–2000 (Singapore: Times Editions, 2000), 246–7. (Call no. RSING 959.57092 LEE-[HIS])
17. Lee, From Third World to First, 246–7.
18. Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 4.
19. Lee, From Third World to First, 246–7.
20. Arti Mulchand, “Jaya Credits CJ Yong for Model Judiciary,” Straits Times, 4 April 2006, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Lum, “CJ Yong Overhauled Justice System.” 
21. Lum, “CJ Yong Overhauled Justice System.” 
22. Lum, “CJ Yong Overhauled Justice System.” 
23. Lum, “CJ Yong Overhauled Justice System.” 
24. Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 5.
25. Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments,
26. Amy Balan, “Yong Pung How Appointed Supreme Court Jdge,” Business Times, 8 June 1989, 1; K. C. Vijayan, “CJ Yong Pung How to Step Down on April 10,” Straits Times, 1 April 2006, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80; Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments
28. Lum, “CJ Yong Overhauled Justice System”; “Lawyer Will Wed in U.K.,” Straits Times, 26 June 1955, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “Female Equation,” Today, 21 December 2011, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Balan, “Giving His Best”; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
31. Balan, “Giving His Best”; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
32. Lum, “CJ Yong Overhauled Justice System”; Balan, “Giving His Best”; Kwek, et al., Hall of Justice, 10; Supreme Court, Singapore, Excellence into the Next Millennium, 19; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
33. Balan, “Giving His Best.”
34. Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 4.
35. Kwek, et al., Hall of Justice, 10.
36. Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 4.
37. Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 200638. Lum, “CJ Yong Overhauled Justice System”; Kwek, et al., Hall of Justice, 10; Supreme Court, Singapore, Excellence into the Next Millennium, 19; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
39. Lum, “CJ Yong Overhauled Justice System”; Kwek, et al., Hall of Justice, 10; Supreme Court, Singapore, Excellence into the Next Millennium, 19; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
40. Bernadette Chooi, “Yong Pung How Becomes Deputy Chairman of Currency Board,” Business Times, 28 September 1982, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
41. “Currency Board Gets Two New Members,” Straits Times, 19 August 1989, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
42. Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
43. Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
44. Balan, “Giving His Best”; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
45. Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
46. Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
47. Balan, “Giving His Best”; Kwek, et al., Hall of Justice, 10; Supreme Court, Singapore, Excellence into the Next Millennium, 19; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
48. Kwek, et al., Hall of Justice, 10; Supreme Court, Singapore, Excellence into the Next Millennium, 19; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80; Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 4.
49. Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
50. Balan, “Giving His Best”; Kwek, et al., Hall of Justice, 10; Supreme Court, Singapore, Excellence into the Next Millennium, 19; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80; Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 5.
51. Lum, “CJ Yong Overhauled Justice System”; Balan, “Giving His Best”; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
52. Balan, “Giving His Best”; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80; Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 5.
53. Bertha Henson, “Think Tank Set Up in S’pore,” Straits Times, 16 January 1988, 1; “New Chief for Think Tank,” Business Times, 15 September 1989, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
54. Kwek, et al., Hall of Justice, 10; Supreme Court, Singapore, Excellence into the Next Millennium, 19; Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 5.
55. Lum, “CJ Yong Overhauled Justice System”; Kwek, et al., Hall of Justice, 10; Supreme Court, Singapore, Excellence into the Next Millennium, 19; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80; Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 5.
56. Kwek, et al., Hall of Justice, 10; Supreme Court, Singapore, Excellence into the Next Millennium, 19; Hoo et al., Speeches and Judgments, 5.
57. “Minority Rights Panel,” New Paper, 20 July 1991, 4; “New Chief Justice Sworn In,” Straits Times, 12 April 2006, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
58. Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
59. Supreme Court, Singapore, Excellence into the Next Millennium, 19; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
60. Kwek, et al., Hall of Justice, 10.
61. Kwek, et al., Hall of Justice, 10; Low, Who’s Who in Singapore 2006, 579–80.
62. “SPH Welcomes 2 New Directors into Its Fold,” Business Times, 30 June 2007, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
63. “Former CJ Appointed Chancellor of SMU,” Business Times, 1 September 2010, 10 (From NewspaperSG); Ng Huiwen, “JY Pillay Appointed SMU Chancellor,” Straits Times, 3 September 2015. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)




The information in this article is valid as of January 2020 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 contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Subject
Judges--Singapore--Biography
Personalities
Yong, Pung How, 1926-
Bankers--Singapore--Biography