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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Remembering the late Rt Honourable Mr Justice Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Abdul Malek Bin Haji Ahmad ... Another Article

Speech by Dato' KC Vohrah

Your Royal Highness Raja Nazrin Shah, Pro Chancellor of the University of Malaya and Your Royal Highness Tuanku Zara Salim, Yang Berbahagia Dato’ Rafeah Salim, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Malaysia, the Hon’ble the Chief Justice of Malaysia Dato’ Abdul Hamid Hj Mohamad, the Hon’ble Attorney General of Malaysia Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Patail, the Hon’ble Mr. Justice Dato’ James Foong, the Acting President, Malaysia Inner Temple Alumni Association.

Puan Sri Roziah Sheik Mohammad and family members, Puan Hajjah Wahidah the mother and all other family members of the late Right Hon’ble Tan Sri Abdul Malek bin Haji Ahmad.

Hon’ble Judges, Ladies and Gentleman,

The late Malek was a uncommon Malaysian, whose most important characteristics were his natural and tremendous sense of fair play and his unquestioned integrity.

He was the Chief Justice that this fair country should have had but never had.

For his principles and his steadfast adherence to fair play and justice according to law the simple but terrible words, “Not him” uttered when the post of Chief Judge (M) had to be filled, I would venture to suggest, derailed Malaysia from having an early restoration of confidence and trustworthiness in our Judiciary to the golden days of pre 1988 and allowed the long trial of tribulations of almost 2 decades to continue to beset the institution save for a very short faltering period of 3 years.

Malek was born in Singapore 63 years ago. His father, the late Encik Ahmad bin Hussein, was a fine man of gentle manners with a keen sense of humour from Penang while his mother Puan Hajjah Wahidah a courteous matriarch comes from the Naning tradition of the adat pepatih stronghold of Alor Gajah in Melaka. All 3 entities were formerly part of the Strait Settlements and Malek’s father was a civil servant in Singapore.

Straight from prestigious Raffles Institution in Singapore he did and finished his Bar finals in 1965 at the Inner Temple when he was just 20, too young to be called to the English Bar.

In 1966 after being called to the English Bar, he returned home, at last, to Malaya to become a Magistrate.

I was already in the Judicial and Legal Service and very soon I began to hear stories of this friendly but no nonsense Magistrate, a very eligible bachelor being eyed by many a parent for his or her daughter!

I came personally to know Malek in 1971 after having had one of his decisions, all in the course of duty, reversed in the High Court in Kelantan and we became very good friends from then.

He was in and out of the Drafting Division and eventually in 1982 he became Parliamentary Draftsman and I the Head of the Advisory Division. He had been trained in Canada on drafting and was aware of the pernicious problems of ouster clauses or provisions which gave wide or unfettered discretion to government authorities or officials and we were united in our view that my Division’s officers in the Federal Ministries and Departments would be advised, since they were involved in the first draft for Acts or subsidiary legislations, to dissuade officials from these overreaching provisions. And I must say there were less of such laws during his tenure as Parliamentary Draftsman.

There were also issues of drawing up laws which went against the spirit of the Constitution but which were considered expedient against the nebulous backdrop of national or public interest. In the name of rule by law the Chambers were instructed to draw up such laws in spite of protests by Malek and myself and others. Although the laws were pushed through and had to be processed by Malek’s Division, I must add the essential handiwork was not his.

He became a High Court Judge in 1985. And on a personal note may I add and I still am touched by it - when he heard the news that he was to be made a Judge he went up to the Attorney General and asked why I was left behind; he argued that it was unfair.

Throughout his career both in the Judiciary and Legal Service and in the Superior Judiciary this characteristic of fair play was always dominant. And he had no hang ups on race or religion and he laughed at jingoistic nationalism.

Malek abhorred lies and distortions. And with his encyclopedic memory of facts and figures, dates and quotes which he could recall almost at will, he would with his impish humour set facts right and deflate the ego of many a pompous or pretentious person and leave many - including senior judges, who were prone to half truths, exaggerations and who were deficit in probity - avoiding him in the future! And in truth this trait hardly endeared him to many senior people.

The lawyers loved him. He was fast at taking notes of evidence with his large legible handwriting and so fast that before a lawyer could formulate his next question or another statement, Malek’s head was, disconcertingly, up from his book ready to take down the lawyer’s next question or statement. He was courteous and nobody felt threatened or humiliated, even with his humour. And another endearing aspect of him was as, lawyers always said of him, he never pretended to know the law if he did not. This man had no backlog and his judgments were always written on time. He participated in over 1000 published judgments of which he wrote about 200 to 300.

When he came to Kuala Lumpur to the Commercial Division after having served in Kota Bharu and Ipoh his troubles started. His being outspoken and his telling humour did not help. He also refused to succumb to doing what was wrong and he rebuffed 2 top Judges who tried to importune him to do just that.

He was not afraid to speak out against a Deputy Minister being called to sit on the Bench with the Chief Justice and the other 3 top Judges when Judges were being sworn in. He advised against the judiciary inviting the Prime Minister to attend the Judges Annual Conferences in Glenmarrie, and also in Kuching during the time when the “surat layang” on the improprieties in the Judiciary was circulating. It was a simple issue of the separation of powers; the Judiciary was not another Department of Government. The views were brushed aside. Malek and we Judges who also shared and expressed the same views on this and other matters affecting the Judiciary were considered a threat to some. Incredibly and childishly, as it might seem, word was passed to Judges not to fraternize with Malek and his friends. He was a courageous man. Need I say more!

I need, however, to say a few words about the man outside the office. Malek loved music. He was so versatile, he even used to write lyrics for the many songs that he composed. But I must say his inbuilt metronomic system was sometimes off beat, perhaps, by a microsecond and that did not help his sense of rhythm when he sang! But he was sporting and he would sing when requested in order to get shy or stiff judges and officers to sing and join in the fun though he knew he was no Frank Sinatra or Matt Munro.

Malek’s bachelorhood was always a hot topic. But on February 23, 1981 he met a young economics undergraduate Roziah Shaik Mohamad just eight months before she graduated. Talk about a whirlwind courtship! He asked for her hand in March that year and within 6 months his bachelorhood was ended! Malek and Roziah were a wonderful and perfect picture of happiness and they had twins Farhan Ashraq and Farhana Ashriqin, now adults, and then 4 other girls and, as Roziah once stated, the children were his greatest possessions.

He was very close to his mother and siblings Puan Nokiah, Dato’ Zabedah, Dato Zainal Abidin, Dato’ Zakaria and Puan Siti Amirah and their families. They, like Malek, were achievers and they were proud of Malek and his achievements and of course they loved him as he loved them.

I have nothing but admiration for Puan Sri Roziah who was in the hospital day in day out throughout the period Malek was there, taking care of him and bearing the terrible burden of knowing that there was no known cure for her beloved husband and that he had to leave this world.

On 31.5.2007 when I was in London I received many other smses that Malek had passed on. I was assailed by an indescribable sadness that a good man had gone prematurely to meet his Maker. Beatrix, my wife, was equally sad.

The sadness is still there. And I know that many, not only his immediate and other family members, feel the emptiness that this promising and uncommon son of Malaysia has left us. May God Bless His Soul.

Thank you.

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