Honouring EW Barker

30 May 2017 | General News
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Mr Lee (2nd from right) mingling with NUS Law students at the event

The Centre for Law & Business (CLB) at NUS Law has been renamed the EW Barker Centre for Law & Business to pay tribute to Singapore’s first and longest-serving Law Minister Mr Edmund William Barker. The new centre was launched on 29 May at the NUS Bukit Timah Campus by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“By combining legal know-how with political instincts and a human touch, Mr Barker came up with practical solutions and contributed to creating and building a prosperous Singapore,” said Mr Lee. He hoped that the Centre would continue this endeavour. “Because our legal system is respected and admired domestically and abroad, we have distinguished ourselves from our competitors and made our way in the world. But our laws cannot be static, because the world is not static. Therefore, it is critical to keep our laws and our lawyers up to date, and maintain our competitive edge. This is where the Centre can help us.”

CLB was established in 2014 to promote research and educational opportunities for faculty, students, legal practitioners and business executives who share a common interest in law, business and economics. This is done through seminars, conferences and interdisciplinary projects, often in collaboration with other universities, government bodies, international organisations and the private sector. The Centre is expanding its manpower and activities, aided by a philanthropic gift totaling $21 million.

Chairman of the EW Barker Centre for Law & Business Professor Tan Cheng Han said that it was an honour to have Mr Barker’s name as part of the Centre. “Mr EW Barker is a highly distinguished person in Singapore’s history and we are acutely aware of the responsibility that it brings to be worthy of bearing his name. We have worked hard to ensure that the Centre has, in a relatively short period of time, become recognised as one of the leading commercial law research centres in the world,” he said.

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From left: Prof Chesterman, NUS President Prof Tan Chorh Chuan, Mr Lee, Mrs Barker, NUS Law Advisory Council Chairman Prof S Jayakumar, and Prof Tan Cheng Han

The late Mr Barker enrolled in Raffles College, a predecessor of NUS, in 1939 and went on to graduate with a law degree with honours from Cambridge University in 1951. Upon his return to Singapore, he practised law from 1952 to 1964, specialising in civil litigation.

Mr Barker entered politics in 1963 and served as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly until 1964. He became Singapore’s first Minister of Law on 1 November 1964 and had an illustrious career spanning more than two decades, which included various concurrent cabinet appointments with the Ministry of National Development; Home Affairs; Environment; Science and Technology; as well as Labour. He also served as Leader of the House from 1968 to 1985.

Mr Barker is remembered for his pivotal role in drafting the legal documents for Singapore's separation from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965, as well as in the development of the Constitution.  

My husband always had the best interests of Singapore foremost in his heart and ambitions. I am sure he would have been delighted with the plans to make this centre of learning a global leader in the field of law and business. On his behalf, we are deeply honoured and thank NUS Law for remembering his contribution to Singapore in this way.

For his contributions, he was conferred the Order of Nila Utama (First Class) at the National Day Awards in 1990. Together with the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, he was also awarded Johor’s highest honour, the Honourable Order of the Crown of Johor (First Class), in 1984, for his role in establishing and maintaining good relations between Johor and Singapore.

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Prof Chesterman said that the Centre aspires to live up to the legacy of Mr Barker

“The EW Barker Centre for Law & Business ensures that not only will Mr Barker’s story be told and his name remembered, but that his legacy will carry forward in perpetuity. The Law was his first calling and this centre, which will be a thought-leader in cutting-edge legal debates, serves as both a reminder of Singapore’s first Law Minister and an inspiration to build on his many achievements,” said NUS Law Dean Professor Simon Chesterman.

Added Mrs Gloria Barker, “My husband always had the best interests of Singapore foremost in his heart and ambitions. I am sure he would have been delighted with the plans to make this centre of learning a global leader in the field of law and business. On his behalf, we are deeply honoured and thank NUS Law for remembering his contribution to Singapore in this way."  

As part of the larger initiative to honour Mr Barker’s role in establishing the rule of law in independent Singapore, the EW Barker Bursary was also launched with support from an anonymous donor and members of the legal fraternity. For a start, up to two bursaries of $6,000 each will be awarded per year to financially needy undergraduate students at NUS Law from AY 2017/18.

See press release and media coverage.

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Mr Lee and Prof Chesterman taking a picture with members of the Barker family