Easy-going persona: Karpal with Gobind Singh Deo (middle) and then Bar Council secretary Mah Weng Kwai outside the courtroom in this file picture taken in 1998.
CHELSEA L.Y. NG shares her memories of lawyer and politician Karpal Singh whom she regarded as a teacher and friend.
I MET him on my first day of work as a court reporter at the old and dilapidated Jalan Duta courthouse in 1994. I did not know who he was. I only knew that he was defending a man charged with stealing a Ruler’s golden belt.
He was patient with me, taking time off from his schedule to explain what was “charge sheet”, “fact sheet” and other court jargon such as “part-heard”, “exhibit” and “for mention” to me.
Much later, I was assigned to cover a molest case involving a sports coach and Karpal was defending the accused. I learned more stuff from him, such as “cross-examination”, “re-examination”, Criminal Procedure Code, “trial-within-a-trial”, “in-camera”, etc.
That was how I came to regard him as my teacher.
Be it in court or in Parliament, he had an unmistakeable presence. While his baritone voice was given to gruff punctuations, especially in Bahasa Malaysia, Karpal was pointedly sharp in his arguments and often drove them home with vigour.
Many of my lawyer friends strive to emulate him. Former senior prosecutors who had the privilege of being his opponents described him as honest, hardworking, professional and certainly not a celebrity lawyer.
As the years went by, Karpal and I became professional friends. Whenever my journalist colleagues or I needed an explanation or other help for our articles, he would humbly oblige, even after the accident that left him partially paralysed.
He was very easy-going. We used to sit down for teh si (tea with evaporated milk) and kaya-butter toast at coffeeshops near the Jalan Raja courthouse, and a few in away places such as Rawang and Kuala Kubu Baru.
He would always order the same items and pick up the bill.
Karpal would also always offer us a ride back to Kuala Lumpur if we needed one. In the mid-1990s, there was hardly any public transport in Jalan Duta back to The Star office in Petaling Jaya.
My colleague then, Lee Yuk Peng, and I would get a ride in Karpal’s Mercedes Benz to Bangsar where he would stop at a supermarket to shop and we would hail a taxi from there back to the office.
He would offer us a lift whenever he saw us at the courthouse at 5pm, and especially when it was raining.
Five years ago, I was made the Education Desk editor and hardly had a chance to meet up or speak to Karpal after that.
I only reconnected with him about a month ago when I moved back to the Newsdesk and had to ask him for a statement on PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy conviction.
That night when I spoke to him on the phone, he asked me: “Where have you been all these years? I haven’t seen you in courts or anywhere.”
I explained and told him I would see him next when he was in court on his sedition charge.
Four weeks ago, I covered the case and managed to shake his hand. I am glad I went to see him in court that day. He fought like a tiger and his mind was as sharp as ever.
With his demise, we have lost a great teacher and an inspiring fighter for human rights.
We have also lost a sharp lawyer who charted useful developments in our evidence law and constitutional rights.
Rest in peace my friend and teacher. I will forever cherish those lessons you taught me.
State funeral for Karpal
Gobind: Father insisted on travelling by car at night
Michael — shy man whose care spoke volumes
A fighter and a gentleman
‘Don’t play the fool’ and other quotes by Karpal Singh
Going to jail with Karpal and learning court language
Karpal Singh, my loving husband
Najib: Karpal a formidable opponent
Pakatan colleagues praise Karpal’s indomitable spirit
Old foes and friends all pay tribute
Death of a hero, birth of a legend
Tiger, tiger who burned bright
Karpal the politician
Karpal the lawyer
Old days of karpal
From hospital to his home