While paying tribute to the first Law Minister of Singapore EW Barker, Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong said, “By combining legal know-how with political instincts and a human touch, Edmund William Barker came up with practical solutions and contributed to creating and building a prosperous Singapore.”
He was speaking at the launch of the EW Barker Centre for Law and Business and a bursary named after the former law minister.
The Prime Minister also focussed on the contribution of Barker in negotiations on the separation from Malaysia, the development of the Constitution, and other key pieces of legislation, such as the Land Acquisition Act.
Edmund William Barker served as Law Minister from 1964 to 1988, double-hatting as National Development Minister between 1965 and 1975. He died in 2001 at the age of 80. He studied law at Cambridge University on a Queen’s Scholarship together with late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his wife Kwa Geok Choo.
Barker made great contributions to Singapore. He drafted the Separation Agreement, the Amendment Bill for the Constitution of Malaysia, and the Proclamation of Singapore — foundation documents for Singapore’s independence.
Lee said, “50 years later, none of the provisions in the documents have ever been disputed or challenged, not even fundamental provisions such as the guarantees of the Water Agreements. Singaporeans owe a profound debt of gratitude to the draughtsman of their independence, Mr Barker.”
During his tenure, Barker had negotiated the Separation with then-Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee and then-Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Razak.
“The former Law Minister had been schoolmates with Razak in Raffles College, and this friendship allowed both sides to work out an amicable solution in a bloodless legal coup, said Lee. “They didn’t talk about EQ (emotional quotient) then, but Mr Barker possessed not only a very able legal mind, but also a first-class personality,” he added.
Barker also oversaw the formation and development of the Constitution, and during his term, key safeguards were introduced to protect minority rights, including the Presidential Council for Minority Rights.
Other achievements included resettling displaced squatters into new public housing, and building hawker centres for peddlers and hawkers relocated after the cleaning up of the Singapore River.