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Former chief justice who died was ‘one of Singapore’s finest sons’

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Tributes pour in for 'one of Singapore's finest sons', whose career spanned the Government, law and finance

Former Chief Justice Yong Pung How, who implemented rigorous reforms to transform the Singapore court system into a model of efficiency, died yesterday. He was 93.

He is survived by his wife, Madam Cheang Wei Woo, and their daughter, Ms Yong Ying-I, who is permanent secretary at the Ministry of Communications and Information.

Mr Yong and Madam Cheang met in 1950 while they were both studying in London. They married in 1955, The Straits Times reported then.

Tributes poured in yesterday from across the many areas Mr Yong had left an impact, in a career that spanned the Government, law and finance.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called him "one of Singapore's finest sons".


"Mr Yong understood how Singapore worked, the fundamental realities of our society, and how laws should be administered and applied in our context so as to ensure good governance for Singaporeans," he said.

President Halimah Yacob said she was deeply saddened by Mr Yong's passing.

"Mr Yong was a shining example of a gentleman who responded to the nation's call to serve," she wrote in a condolence letter to his wife.

"He had left behind a better place for our future generations," she added.

In a Facebook post, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said Mr Yong was a "selfless titan who dedicated himself to building up Singapore and her institutions".

Mr Yong was born on April 11, 1926, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. His father, Mr Yong Shook Lin, was a prominent lawyer who co-founded the firm Shook Lin & Bok.

He read law at Downing College in Cambridge University after World War II, where his lifelong friendship with Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the man who would go on to be Singapore's founding prime minister, began.

Mr Yong was admitted to the Singapore Bar in 1964 and migrated to Singapore with his family in 1969. He was a senior partner with Shook Lin & Bok until 1970.

He went into merchant banking and finance, becoming chairman and chief executive of OCBC Bank from 1983 to 1989.

On a secondment from OCBC Bank from 1981 to 1983, Mr Yong helped form the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) - Singapore's sovereign wealth fund - and became its first managing director.

He was also managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore from 1982 to 1983, working closely with Dr Goh Keng Swee, who was chairman.

On July 1, 1989, at age 63, Mr Yong was persuaded by Mr Lee to return to the judiciary in view of becoming the Chief Justice.

He was appointed a Supreme Court judge and took office as the Chief Justice one year later on Sept 28, 1990.

Faced with a backlog of more than 2,000 cases, Mr Yong introduced case management measures that cleared the backlog by the mid-1990s and reduced the time for cases to be concluded.


He harnessed technology to streamline court procedures, set up specialist courts, raised the salaries for judges to attract legal talents and initiated the Justices' Law Clerk scheme to recruit top law graduates.

Mr Yong developed a reputation for being tough and enhancing the sentences of those who appeared before him, even as he gave second chances to offenders with psychiatric problems.

He retired on April 10, 2006, at the age of 80.

His many achievements aside, Mr Yong said his "finest hour" in life had nothing to do with his illustrious career as Chief Justice.

In an interview in 2004, he said: "I would say it was the day I married my wife. We have been married for 50 years now, and I still consider her my best friend." - ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY YUEN SIN