A time for reflection

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 28 Sep 2014

The law fraternity will honour the late Sultan of Perak at this year’s Sultan Azlan Shah Law Lecture. 

THE 28th Sultan Azlan Shah Law Lecture on Oct 9 will be particularly significant and poignant as it will be the first lecture after the death of Sultan Azlan Shah on May 28 this year.

The much anticipated highlight of the legal calendar is held in Kuala Lumpur and attracts a wide audience comprising not only judges and lawyers but also other professionals, corporate figures, politicians, government officials, students and the general public.

And it is a known fact that the late Sultan took a very keen interest in the choice of speakers and topics for the lecture.

“He has done so from its inception in 1986. Naturally, it will be a sad occasion this year without the presence of His Royal Highness,” says former High Court judge Tan Sri Visu Sinnadurai.

But, he adds, “It will also be an opportunity to remember and reflect on the extraordinary life of a man who was so unique, being the only person to have held the three highest constitutional offices in the country, namely Lord President of the Federal Court (now re-named Chief Justice), the Ruler of the State of Perak, and the Ninth Yang Di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia. He has left a truly indelible mark”.

Court of Appeal Justice Mah Weng Kwai, who has attended most of the lectures, and will be there on Oct 9, agrees.

“The lecture is very much in honour of the late Sultan and a recognition of his tremendous contribution to the judiciary when he was a judge and later Lord President,” says Mah.

Sinnadurai, the co-founder of Malaysia’s first law school at Universiti Malaya (UM), with the late Tan Sri Ahmad Ibrahim conceived and started the series when he was the faculty’s second dean.

In almost three decades, he recalls, “leading judges of the common law world, world-renowned academics and Queen’s Counsel, and a former British Prime Minister were happy to come to Malaysia to deliver these annual lectures” in honour of Sultan Azlan Shah.

Among their ranks were Justice Anthony Kennedy, “the first justice from the Supreme Court of the United States of America to deliver the lecture”, and Justices from Britain’s Supreme Court of whom Lord Robert Carnwath is the latest this year.

Lord Carnwath has chosen to speak about “Environmental Law in a Global Society”, which is “very timely given the fact that Malaysia has a new Environmental Court,” says Mah.

While he was at the English Bar, Lord Carnwath had specialised in the areas of planning, local government, environmental and administrative law. As a judge, he has contributed to the development of English environmental and planning law, in particular in the field of common law nuisance.

Reflecting on the Sultan Azlan Shah Law Lecture, Mah says “they have had wonderful speakers.”

“The lectures have earned a reputation. You will be sure of getting a good speaker and a good topic and it won’t be a yawn.” Over the years, these eminent speakers have also taken the opportunity to pay tribute to Sultan Azlan Shah.

Former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Woolf, described Sultan Azlan Shah as “a most distinguished jurist, statesman and upholder of the Rule of Law”.

“Many of his cases are still being cited today,” notes Mah, who has also quoted him often.

Sultan Azlan Shah, when he was a judge, not only contributed much to the development of Malaysian law, but also came to be recognised by the international legal community for his steadfast commitment to the Rule of Law, good governance and as a defender of the independence of the judiciary.

He was internationally recognised as an outstanding jurist, says Sinnadurai, which is why his judgments “remain authoritative” both in Malaysia and abroad.

In 2007, for example, the Privy Council in Bolkiah (Prince Jefri) and Others v State and Another referred to with approval his landmark Federal Court judgment on commercial law (Tan Swee Hoe Co Ltd. v Ali Hussain Bros).

And his judgment on marine insurance law (Boon & Cheah Steel Pipes Sdn Bhd v Asia Insurance Co Ltd. & Ors) is cited as authority in English texts on the subject. “Several of his decisions on the law and practice of arbitration are still frequently quoted by the courts in the common law jurisdictions,” Sinnadurai adds.

Mah calls the series an “asset to education” which has benefited law students, practitioners and judges.

Ang Hean Leng, now a partner at Lee, Hishammuddin Allen & Gledhill, remembers that when he was at UM, he always looked forward to attending the lecture.

“We not only get to hear from top English jurists about contemporary and complex legal issues, but also meet and greet Malaysian judges and lawyers,” he says.

It was also a chance to meet and greet Sultan Azlan Shah.

Professor Gurdial Singh Nijar at the UM Law Faculty remembers when the lectures used to be held in the Dewan Tunku Chancellor and the speakers used to spend time with faculty members and students.

But in later years, he notes, except for a few cases such as the late Tom Bingham, a law lord who was de facto head of the House of Lords, and last year’s speaker Lord Jonathan Sumption, the majority of the speakers were never brought to visit the Law faculty to interact with staff and students.

He wishes that this could be restored.

The legacy of the Sultan Azlan Lectures is in its ability to attract eminent speakers like Kennedy and many of the top judges from the United Kingdom to expound on the principles of the rule of law, human rights, independence of the judiciary and good governance. These are certainly principles that resonate with all Malaysians.

> For invitation cards, contact the Faculty of Law, Universiti Malaya, at Tel: 03-7967 6501 / 6502 / 6500.

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