Author Interview: Constitutional Interpretation in Singapore: Theory and Practice

Jaclyn L. Neo talks to us about the new edited collection Constitutional Interpretation in Singapore: Theory and Practice (Routledge 2017). Jaclyn L. Neo is an Assistant Professor of Law at the National University of Singapore (NUS) where she teaches constitutional and administrative law. 

Tell us a little bit about your edited volume.

This book examines the recent growth of constitutional cases in Singapore. It interrogates the underpinnings of Singapore’s constitutional system, explores how Singapore courts have dealt with issues related to rights and power, and sets developments in Singapore in the wider context of constitutional scholarship worldwide. It argues that Singapore is witnessing a shift in legal and political culture as both judges and citizens display an increasing willingness to engage with constitutional ideas and norms.

What inspired you to take up this project?

I joined academia in 2008 but spent four years away for my graduate studies. During this time, there was an explosion of constitutional law cases in Singapore. When I returned from my graduate studies in 2013, I was excited with all the new cases that we now had to grapple with in my teaching of Constitutional and Administrative Law, and felt inspired to put together a project that would take a long and critical look at them. While there was a lot of scholarly engagement with the new developments, there was no single book that sought to take a sustained examination of the constitution in light of this. The last collection of essays on the Singapore constitution was published in 2009 (edited by Li-ann Thio and Kevin Tan) as a reflection on the Singapore constitution 40 years after its inception (1965 – 2005). However, unlike this earlier collection, which focused mainly on institutional developments, this new volume examines the constitutional landscape from the perspective of judicial interpretation.

Whose work was influential on you throughout the course of the project?

Kevin Tan and Thio Li-ann are really the pioneers of constitutional and administrative law in Singapore. Their work laid down the foundation for scholarship in this area. Besides them, I have of course been inspired by the work of my doctoral supervisor, Bruce Ackerman, among others.

What challenges did you face in editing the volume?

I was very meticulous in curating the content of this book, and I am grateful to the contributors for being open to my suggestions on topics and coverage of the essays.

What do you hope to see as the volume’s contribution to academic discourse and to constitutional or public law more broadly?

The volume’s primary aim is to critically examine the recent developments in Singapore, but it’s more than that. It engages with existing scholarship on constitutional law and interpretation, and the hope is that the Singapore story informs and challenges that scholarship.

What’s next?

Hopefully, in ten years’ time, this book will have outlived its contemporary usefulness, and the law has sufficiently changed to warrant another collection of essays! In the meantime, I’m working, inter alia, on a constitutional theory for judicial review, Singapore style.