Helen Bettinson (History 1982; Development Director) and I have just returned from a week split between Hong Kong, Singapore and the skies. We met many amazing, and some amazingly generous, alumni. Both as Master, and as a lawyer, I took particular pride in the individual achievements of the Fitz lawyers who have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the success of these two small but highly successful jurisdictions.

What were the high points? One was seeing Earl Deng (Law 2002) appearing before the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong in a complex case challenging a Government policy which forbids even those mandated (officially recognised) refugees and screened-in torture claimants who have been in Hong Kong for a prolonged period of time from taking up employment. The individual appellants came from Burundi, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Their stories are compelling: the Pakistani national, for example, has been in Hong Kong more than ten years, having arrived with his family to escape religious persecution and was mandated as a refugee by the UNHR in 2002. Each had been released into the country on recognizance, but they have not been permitted to work as they await resettlement in another country. Their challenges had been unsuccessful in the lower courts. A useful reminder that both the drafting and the application of fair immigration laws pose moral and legal challenges around the world, and not just in the UK.

I was privileged in Hong Kong to have lunch with our Honorary Fellow, Andrew Li CBE JP (Law 1967; Hon Fellow). He gave an intriguing lecture in College in 2000, not long after he was made Chief Justice in Hong Kong, on how he saw the principle of “one country, two legal systems” developing. I was sceptical then that Hong Kong would maintain its legal framework – based on English common law, simply supplemented by local legislation – for very long when China loomed so hugely over the horizon. I was wrong. Hong Kong is thriving, and although it may be a highly materialistic world, our generous hosts made it abundantly clear that they are well aware that responsibilities flow from such privilege. As the former Chief Justice said, at an HKU Law Alumni Reunion Dinner in 2009:

“We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give … Ultimately, our society must find its soul in its social conscience, based on respect for human dignity.”

In Singapore, high points were conversations with several of those extraordinary men who came to Fitzwilliam after the end of the Japanese occupation of Singapore allowed them to study in England.  I had, of course, read the memoirs that Lee Kuan Yew (Law 1947; Hon Fellow) wrote in 1998, The Singapore Story. There he remembers with fondness and gratitude those who encouraged him in Fitzwilliam, particularly the Censor, Bill Thatcher, who clearly left a deep impression: “He was a wise, perceptive man who had a lot of time for the students in his charge”. (Noted by this new Master!). Very sadly I was unable to meet Lee Kuan Yew on this occasion, but we were royally feasted by his brother Lee Suan Yew (Medical Sciences 1954), remarkably still practising today as a family doctor, and Heah Hock Heng (Architecture 1954) who also recounted extraordinary stories of their time in Cambridge, and beyond. They were not the most senior citizens at our reception in the Tanglin Club – that accolade goes to Victor Chew (Architecture 1950), one of the leading architects of Singapore (and not in the political sense). We were also thrilled to meet Cecil Wong (Economics 1946), who arrived in Fitzwilliam even before Lee Kuan Yew.

Singapore Supreme Court Foster and PartnersIn Singapore, I visited both the new Supreme Court, designed by British architectural firm Foster and Partners, who also designed Cambridge University Law Faculty, and the even more modern Attorney General’s Chambers. Both stunning buildings – splendid, but practical, rather than showy. It was fascinating to be able to lead a discussion with judges on sentencing issues, and with prosecutors on the difficult (in theory and practice) relationship between the police and the prosecutor. Singapore may be a very different place to England, but we share common concerns. Again, it was a particular source of enormous pride for me to see law alumni doing so well in their careers. I singled out Earl in Hong Kong, so I’ll single out in Singapore Mean Luck Kwek (Law 1992). He is now the Dean and CEO of Singapore’s Civil Service College, whose mission is central to the ethos of modern Singapore: to develop people for a first class public service. He is also concurrently Deputy Secretary (Development) in the Public Service Division of the Prime Minister’s Office.

I return to England inspired. As Master of the College, I am determined to speak up for Fitz’s moral purpose: our sense of engagement and indeed responsibility to the wider world. It’s not just about teaching and research, but also about engagement. As I have said before, Fitz has porous walls – we’re in dialogue with wider societies. A Master fuels that engagement, particularly for students, who are flapping their wings on the lower precarious rungs of the academic ladder. It was a real pleasure to meet so many alumni who spoke fondly of their time at Fitz and who spontaneously and frequently related developments in their later careers to those Cambridge experiences.

Travel broadens the mind – to me, even a quick glimpse into other people’s legal systems, and indeed into other people’s lives, is a sharp reminder that it’s not easy striving for a more equal, just and fair society as Andrew Li so eloquently said in the speech which I quoted earlier. But that must be one of the underlying ambitions that we seek to encourage in our current generation of students.

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

2 Comments

  1. What an interesting blog, Nicky, combining your many duties and interests in a perfect way! Looking forward to a sequel. I.

  2. A friend of mine, 89 yr old Douglas Sangster, was a young architecture in post-war Singapore with the British practice James Cubitt & Partners, and was a friend of Victor Chew. Douglas is travelling to Singapore next year and would like to make contact with Victor. He hasn’t seen Victor for decades, nor has he been back to Singapore!
    Is it possible for your to advise on how Douglas might make contact with Victor please?
    Very many thanks,
    Joan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>