By CHEN HUIFEN
AN Institute of Legal Education (ILE) will be set up next year to coordinate, administer and oversee initiatives on legal education, including continuing education for existing lawyers.
The establishment of the ILE is part of a series of changes that will come into effect following the passing of the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill in parliament yesterday.
ILE will focus on the content of legal education and assume functions and powers now held by the Board of Legal Education.
The legislation includes replacing the current pupillage system with a training contract programme.
This will shift the training obligation from the pupil-master to the law firm, so more structured training can evolve. While it is not feasible to impose specific requirements in training contracts between law firms and legal trainee, Law Minister K Shanmugam said that a framework will be put in place that spells out the minimum requirements that law firms should comply with.
'We understand very small firms may have some resource constraint,' said Mr Shanmugam. 'We'll find a way which they can arrange with other law firms for the pupillage period to have training. The precise rules will be set out by the Board of Legal Education subsequently.'
The training system will be introduced incrementally to give law firms time to adjust to the changes.
In another move, the one-year course leading to a Diploma in Singapore Law, typically required of foreign-trained lawyers, will be replaced by a three-month conversion course to prepare them for Part A of the Bar exam.
Foreign-trained lawyers with a Second Lower Honours degree may get a shot at practising here if they can pass the Bar exam.
The changes are aimed at attracting more qualified Singaporeans and permanent resident (PRs) who have studied law abroad to return to practise here.
They will help build up the legal talent pool in Singapore, which aims to become a legal services and education hub for the region.
Even before the changes take effect, more than 320 foreign-trained lawyers have applied for the conversion course at the National University of Singapore, according to a media report.
Also passed yesterday was the Goods and Services Tax (Amendment) Bill, read by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Hwee Hua. Other than the GST changes announced in the Budget, the new GST legislation will also extend the current GST treatment for physical vouchers to electronic, bar-coded or magnetic strip vouchers.
GST is due only when these vouchers are redeemed - not at the point of sale of the vouchers.
Responding to a question, Mrs Lim also said that GST would not be cut even if economic conditions worsen because any temporary reduction would be less effective in helping the lower and middle income groups.
This article was first published in The Business Times.