Lord Keen's speech given at the High Commissioner’s Official Residence, Singapore.
Thank you High Commissioner for that introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here this evening at your official residence.
I’m sure the High Commissioner would agree that Eden Hall is more than a home. As many of you here will be aware, Eden Hall was built in 1904 for a merchant, originally from Baghdad, who sold rice and opium. Fortunately, the nature of the exports have evolved since then, but the foundations on which we stand tonight are a symbol of what continues to be the lifeblood of Singapore as a modern, outward-looking global hub – trade.
Eden Hall also stands as a symbol of our commitment to Singapore and to South East Asia. It is a working platform and canvass to highlight our shared history and our common values, interests and outlook, as it is tonight.
UK and Singapore: a shared history, a shared outlook
Singapore today does feel very familiar to anyone arriving from the UK. Certainly for us here this evening, the food and the flags may have something to do with that!
But the familiarity goes beyond that, beyond these walls. It is rooted in our long and shared history and outlook….
….our great maritime trading past….our common language….the importance we attach to the Rule of Law as the cornerstone for democracy and freedom….age-old traditions sitting seamlessly alongside glass and steel and cutting-edge technology.
That history and shared perspective has served as a firm foundation on which our two nations have forged close ties on areas of mutual interest like trade and investment, but also culture, education and defence.
Singapore is the UK’s largest trading partner in Southeast Asia, with two thirds of our exports to this region arriving here in Singapore. Likewise, two thirds of Singapore’s investment in the EU goes to the UK.
London and Singapore: premier league of legal services
London and Singapore, together with New York, also share in the prestige that comes from being in the premier league of legal centres throughout the world. Our legal centres are united by legal certainty, by respect for the Rule of Law, by a Common Law system, and by a reliable recourse to the judiciary.
It is these enduring qualities that underpin the bilateral trade between our two nations – our legal systems and services are the foundation of the prosperity that is created from the trade we do with the rest of the world. Business is global, and the law that glues together those global links is global too.
Singapore and the UK are home to such successful legal centres because we share an open and liberal approach to providing legal services, we both invite and encourage expertise from around the world and we both understand the importance of effective regulation in this sector.
This is a key purpose of my visit to Singapore. Tomorrow morning I will be speaking at the International Conference of Legal Regulators. It’s great that this conference is being held in Asia for the first time.
Legal Services are GREAT
The conference coincides with us introducing a new pillar of the UK’s global GREAT campaign – Legal Services are GREAT – and I wanted to take the opportunity to hold a reception to highlight this campaign before going on to promote it at the International Bar Association Conference in Sydney.
Our message is simple: the UK is – and will continue to be – one of the pre-eminent legal centres in the world; we will continue to be a leading player in that premier league of international legal centres.
For the roots of English law are deep; its adoption and influence is wide. It is the product of hundreds of years of evolution since Magna Carta was sealed.
That gradual refinement, development and extension, precedent after precedent, means English Common Law is clear, predictable and familiar. It underpins over a quarter of the world’s jurisdictions and the principles of Magna Carta continue to reverberate around the world.
Here in Singapore for example, the Court of Appeal has traced the origin of Article 12 of the Constitution guaranteeing equality back to article 40 of the Magna Carta.
The UK’s legal heritage, together with its expertise and innovation, makes it a popular choice for clients around the world. London brings access to the world’s biggest specialist legal centre for dispute resolution and commercial litigation. But it’s not just about London. Scotland has a wealth of legal expertise, including its leading expertise in oil, gas and renewable energy. And Northern Ireland is bringing greater efficiencies and innovations to the legal sector through its Legal Innovation Centre.
These are just a few examples of what this campaign will be highlighting. I’d like to thank the Law Society for England and Wales for helping to sponsor this event and for their work - and the work of the Bar Council – to promote UK legal services and build partnerships and connections with legal sectors around the world.
Singapore has embraced its legal roots and its trading past. In doing so, it has never been complacent. Instead, it has built on its heritage through a relentless focus on innovation.
We like to think that from Magna Carta onwards the UK showed the world something about the Common Law system and its attractions. However, that doesn’t mean that today we are closed to looking at – and working with – other legal centres where they are trying new and innovative approaches.
For example, we are now seeing an enterprising Singapore system that is leading the way on legal tech and I will be seeing for myself how this is improving the way courts operate here.
Legal tech is a clear example of the innovation and dynamism that has been the driver for much of Singapore’s success.
It is a success motivated by the Singaporean spirit – the energy, the entrepreneurial can-do attitude, the innovation, the truly global outward-looking optimism.
The sense of familiarity you feel when you arrive here in Singapore is matched only by the inspiration you take away with you when you leave.
The UK government is proud of the enduring and strong relationship between our two nations and of our shared status as part of that premier league of legal centres around the world.
So please enjoy the reception this evening, and the hospitality here in Eden Hall as we celebrate a legal services sector that is the foundation of prosperity for our two nations and around the world.