Saturday, December 01, 2007

Tun Suffian Legacy: In Service of the Law

Tun Suffian’s Legacy
In Service of the Law – Simplicity & Greatness

By Salleh Buang
Tun Suffian Foundation Inc. 2007

Professor Salleh Buang did not pen a biography of Tun Suffian. Nonetheless, the writing helps us to know enough of Tun Suffian, his passion for the law and justice, and many other aspects of his life. The contributions of the late Tun Suffian towards the development of the law and the constitution are presented in a balanced manner.

In his Preface, Salleh Buang wrote about his relationship with the late Tun Suffian and described Tun Suffian as a “Towering Personality”. He then goes to describe the early life of Suffian, the journalist, Suffian’s career in the civil service and his meteoric rise in the legal service.

In 1956, at the age of 39, Suffian was asked by the Conference of Rulers to draw up the Malaysian Constitution. In 1958, Suffian was promoted as Senior Federal Counsel in the Attorney-General’s Chamber. In 1959, Suffian was made the Solicitor-General. Hardly 2 years, Suffian was elevated to the Bench as a High Court judge.

In 1964, Suffian was appointed to act as the Pro-Chancellor of University Malaya. Suffian was also actively involved as a Higher Education Advisory Council member. He was also an External Examiner in Law for the University of Singapore.

In November 1, 1973, Suffian was made the Chief Justice of Malaya. Two months later, on January 5, 1974, he was made the Lord President of Malaysia. On June 4, 1975, Suffian was conferred the highest title in the country. He was made a Tun. Tun Suffian was the 4th Lord President until he retires in 1982 at the age of 65. Upon retirement, Tun Suffian decided to grow bananas and fruit trees and orchids as well as write.

Salleh Buang also wrote about the judicial crisis and his analysis and deliberations provide the readers fresh insights into that unfortunate phase of Malaysian judicial history. The dismissal of Tun Salleh Abas in 1988 and the ensuring constitutional crisis is a matter of public record. Tun Salleh’s dismissal was the greatest blow to our judicial independence in Malaysian history. In 1994, in what many have regarded as a “further downgrading of the judiciary”, the office of the Lord President was renamed “Chief Justice of Malaysia”. The previous Chief Justice of Malaya was changed to Chief Judge of Malaya.

Referring to Tun Salleh’s dismissal, Tun Suffian recalled: “The news resounded throughout the world and reached Geneva, where friends asked me what sort of country Malaysia was. I was at a loss to explain and, for the first time in my life, I felt ashamed of being a Malaysian.”

According to Tun Suffian, “Tan Sri Hamid Omar knew that should anything happened to Tun Salleh he was to be his successor. The AG who was supposed to assist the Tribunal by putting before them all the facts pros and cons, instead acted as a prosecutor.”

Tunku Abdul Rahman, the First Prime Minister of Malaysia wrote in his Foreword to Tun Salleh Abas’s Book “May Day for Justice”: “This terrible episode of sacking the Lord President should serve as a lesson to the people of Malaysia as well as to people in many developing countries where judicial independence is seen by those who wield power only as a inconvenience and a threat to what they arrogantly believed is their God-given right to do as they please.”

Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, in his doctoral thesis, and subsequently published in his book, “Freedom under Executive Power in Malaysia – a Study of Executive Supremacy”, said:

“The government has sent a message to the judiciary that judicial decisions deemed likely to impinge upon the powers of the government or the ruling coalition may result in retribution taken against the judiciary or against specific judges. In short, the Malaysian government purposely sought to deny the nation’s judiciary of its independence”.

In his book “May Day for Justice, Tun Salleh Abas said: “It (the judiciary) has been attacked in the belief that judges tend to act as if they believe in the supremacy of Parliament rather than the supremacy of the Constitution.” “…It is very true that a number of judges showed weakness of spirit. They have to answer for their sins in their own way. Accidents of history have made unjust men judges in the same way thieves and poachers have sometimes attained the position of watchmen and game warden.”

“I became absolutely disillusioned with the law,” Tun Salleh was quoted to have said.

As regard to the executive position of a Law Minister, Tun Suffian had this to say:

“The Law Minister is what his designation indicates. He is the Government’s lawyer, advising Government on legal matters, just as a private lawyer advices his clients. He is not Minister of Justice. He has no say in the running of the courts.”

As regard to the interference from the Executives, Tun Suffian said: “I know that I will be spared the fate of a Chief Justice of Ghana who was fired by President Nkrumah after acquitting some men whom the Government wanted to go to prison, or the fate of a Chief Justice of Uganda who has never been seen again after being spirited away by burly men from his Chambers, after delivering judgment adverse to President Idi Amin. ..To prevent an Idi Amin from destroying the judiciary, the public should be educated to believe in the value of an independent judiciary, and judges should so conduct themselves, both in and out of Court, in a manner to win public respect and even their affection, and not be eccentrics who respond to social convention with careless independence…”

On the whole, the book is a "Must" read for LLB law students and those who are sitting for their CLP. It will also be a good read for those interested in the subjects of law and jurisprudence.

For those who are interested to buy the book, you can get a copy at MPH at RM69.00

1 comment:

boon said...
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