‘The Legal Lion Of The Commonwealth’ is an important legal legacy for Malaysia

'The Legal Lion Of The Commonwealth: Judgments'

Editors: Angela Yap & Ritchie Ramesh

Publisher: Akasaa Publishers, nonfiction

Many people, even those well-known like former Supreme Court judge Tan Sri Dr Eusoffe Abdoolcader, are forgotten by the general public over time.

Or if Eusoffe is remembered, it would only be for the time he was suspended after standing up for sacked Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and had to fight for his job against allegations of “gross misbehaviour”.

The public might remember Eusoffe as one of the five Supreme Court judges who were suspended in the 1988 judicial crisis during the premiership of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad 1.0. But few would remember that he was among the three who were reinstated after a tribunal concluded a closed-door hearing. More might remember his tragic death from a gunshot wound in 1996, post retirement at 71.

The politically aware would certainly remember that Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who succeeded Dr Mahathir, announced an ex-gratia payment in 2008, short of an apology, to Salleh and the judges who were suspended or sacked in 1988.

Eusoffe Abdoolcader Left An Important Legal LegacyBut, apart from senior lawyers and law lecturers in the region and some Commonwealth countries, few members of the public would remember Eusoffe’s important judgments in the High Court and Federal/Supreme Court.

That could all change, though. Two Malaysians have channelled their love, respect and admiration for Eusoffe as a jurist and man into a book: The Legal Lion Of The Commonwealth: Judgments. It truly was a labour of love for Angela Yap and Ritchie Ramesh. The two-volume book was published after almost 12 years of research and interviews. Yap and Ritchie write in the book that this is just the first of several others to “revive the legacy of Eusoffe Abdoolcader and Malaysia’s most illustrious forgotten family”.

There have been several launches since the book came out the end of 2017. Co-publishers Akasaa Publishers and Avec are determined to share Eusoffe’s story in as many places as possible. Last month, it was launched at the Singapore Writers Festival. At the event, Malaysian lawyer-turned-actor Chacko Vadaketh, dressed in a gown, horse-hair wig and cravat, performed Eusoffe’s reply to the congratulatory speeches at his elevation to the High Court in 1974.

Chacko was a fitting choice. His father, former Court of Appeal judge Tan Sri V.C. George, had given the Malaysian Bar’s congratulations as then Bar Council chairman. George had waxed lyrical about Eusoffe’s “calf love” for the law that grew into a “mild flirtation” and finally blossomed into a “passionate love affair”.

The book isn’t just a tome of judgments but is also a brief history of Malaysia. There are 36 judgments in Volume 1 and 47 in Volume II. The editors have included Eusoffe’s dissertation on the American doctrine of police power. He wrote the article to expound beyond what he had addressed in 1977 in the conviction of then Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Harun Idris for corruption.

Don’t worry, the book doesn’t throw you straight into legalese but eases you into it by first sharing nuggets of Eusoffe’s life.

His last surviving brother, Siroj, writes that Eusoffe – born on Sept 11, 1924 – so impressed the Japanese during their occupation of Malaya in World War II that they picked him to study law in Japan on a Monbusho scholarship. From their research in Japan, the authors opine that WWII had a part to play “in the making of” Eusoffe. They believe that the teenager, who immersed himself in the ethics and virtues of the bushido (samurai) code (way of the warrior) was shaped by the code. Following his repatriation after the war Eusoffe left Malaya to read law in Britain on a King’s scholarship.

Another nugget is that Eusoffe was the only one among the suspended judges who defended himself in the tribunal, say the authors.

Eusoffe was not perfect but he was fierce and fearless.

This book is suitable for youths, academics, historians, logophiles and the legal fraternity, say the non-lawyer authors. “... What binds us is that like Eusoffe, our individual experiences have led to a lifelong preoccupation with the lofty ideals of truth, justice and sacrifice,” they add.

I like that they set out the judgments in chronological order. This allows readers to gauge whether there were any changes in Eusoffe’s thinking from when he sat as a solo judge in the High Court to sitting in a panel of judges in the then Federal/Supreme Court. The editors have also included several quotations in boxes for easy reading.

Eusoffe was lauded by the British press as the “Legal Lion of the Commonwealth”. His decision in Mak Sik Kwong which touches on a citizenship claim was cited with approval by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (the highest court of appeal for many Commonwealth countries) in 1981.

A few of his judgments were quoted in Australian and New Zealand courts as foreign precedents. The highest court in Australia cited his decision – on the presumption of Constitutionality in the Harun Idris case – in the Franklin Dam case, which is referred to as one of Australia’s most important Constitutional law decisions “in our time, if not since the creation of the federal system of government” there.

Apart from Mak Sik Kwong, his other cases of public interest are Tan Boon Liat (on habeas corpus), Datuk Harun Idris & Ors (Muhammad Ali vs Joe Bugner boxing match in Kuala Lumpur), and Merdeka University (setting up a private university).

For those interested, there is a WikiLeaks release online of a 1977 cable to the then US Secretary of State about the Harun case and decision. Among the thought-provoking appeals in the book are Mamat bin Daud & Ors (can Parliament criminalise acts likely to cause disunity), and J.P. Berthelsen (Asian Wall Street Journal staff correspondent’s work pass cancelled without a hearing).

At another launch of the book, at Kinokuniya Bookstores in Kuala Lumpur in August, British High Commissioner Vicki Treadell said Eusoffe’s judgments are a legacy for the international community and an inspiration for a new generation of Malaysians.

“If he felt that government had strayed beyond their Constitutional place, he was not afraid of ... pointing out that actually, they were breaching the Constitution and the law.”

This is not a quick read book. Take your time. Be inspired. After all, we have a new government to check.

The Legal Lion Of The Commonwealth: Judgments is available at Kinokuniya Bookstores, akasaa.com, and arecabooks.com.

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