Legal giant gone but not forgotten

PETALING JAYA: Former Lord President Tun Dr Mohamed Salleh Abas, who was sacked during the constitutional crisis in 1988 along with five other senior judges in the then Supreme Court, has passed away.

He was 91.

Salleh’s demise from pneumonia at 3.20am yesterday came a day after he was admitted to the intensive care unit of Hospital Sultanah Nur Zahirah in Kuala Terengganu after testing positive for Covid-19.

Tributes to the small-sized, humble man, who definitely left some big shoes to fill, poured in immediately from personalities in the legal fraternity.

In extending her condolences to his family, Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat said Salleh had contributed so much to the Judiciary during his tenure as Lord President, calling his demise a great loss to the Judiciary and the nation.

A native of Kampung Raja, Besut, Terengganu, Salleh was a law graduate from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and had a Masters in International Law and Constitution from the University of London.

He then served as a magistrate and a deputy public prosecutor at the Attorney General’s Chambers before becoming the Solicitor-General.

Salleh helped to draft the Rukun Negara in 1970 when he was Solicitor-General before becoming a Federal Court judge, and then the Chief Judge of Malaya in 1982.

He took over the post of Lord President in 1984 and headed the country’s Judiciary from 1984 until the constitutional crisis of 1988 when he was sacked from his position, along with five other senior judges in the Supreme Court, as the highest court was called then.

He also contested as a PAS representative and won a state seat in Jertih, Terengganu, during the 1999 General Election.

In 2008, the government decided to pay Salleh and the five other judges goodwill ex gratia over their sacking.

In a special interview with The Star that year, Salleh related how he was living a quiet life in Kuala Terengganu, happily toiling in his dusun (orchard) in Besut and enjoying the fruits of his labour.

Former High Court judge Datuk Syed Ahmad Idid recalled fondly his visit to Terengganu when Salleh was a member of the state Cabinet in the early 2000s.

Tributes to Salleh: (From left to right) Tengku Maimun, Raus and Shafee hold Salleh in high regard.Tributes to Salleh: (From left to right) Tengku Maimun, Raus and Shafee hold Salleh in high regard.

“He very graciously offered me his car and driver. So, I visited Kenyir and other parts of the state. He hosted a dinner for me and we chatted. That was after I had left the Judiciary. He was incorruptible and always with Allah above, ” said Syed Ahmad.

Former Attorney General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali, who worked under Salleh when he was the Solicitor-General in the 1970s, regarded him as his mentor, a man of principle, honesty, highest integrity and piety.

“When he was a Supreme Court judge, he presided the ceremony of my call to the Bar in August 1982, at my request, at the Terengganu High Court.

“It was a privilege for me to know him and serve under him. We have lost a true, honest man. The country has lost an illustrious man who was dedicated to the rule of law, ” said Apandi.

Senior lawyer Abdul Haris Abdul Malik, who worked with Salleh on civil cases in Terengganu in the 2000s, said the nonagenarian was very knowledgeable and always focused on his work.

“He was very meticulous and would look at a case from different angles and aspects. He looked through every detail but he was also very fast, ” said the lawyer of 30 years.

Haris, who owns a law firm in Kuala Terengganu, said Salleh did not like people who sugar-coated their words and would prefer if they told it as it was.

Salleh, he said, had a sharp mind right to the end, making it a point to go for regular medical check-ups and watch his diet.

However, what Haris remembered the most was how humble Salleh was and how accepting he was of other people’s views and opinions.

“But the views they presented must be very convincing without a single loophole, ” he said.

Another lawyer, Fathinajwaa Idris, 35, said Salleh was a generous man who acted as sort of a grandfather figure to everyone.

“He didn’t like to be called Tun. He preferred that we called him To’ki (grandfather). But I couldn’t bring myself to call him that, so sometimes I’d call him Tun and sometimes To’ki, ” said Fathinajwaa, who now has her own legal firm in Marang,

Working with Salleh in her early days as a lawyer 11 years ago, she recalled that he would give duit raya to staff at the firm where he was a consultant and was just as generous in dishing out work-related advice.

“He told me that in any case, we need to know the facts first before referring to the law. I have so many good memories working with him, ” she said.

Former Malaysian Bar Council president Datuk Kuthubul Zaman Bukhari will always remember Salleh as a hardworking man of integrity and discipline.

They had the opportunity to work together in the Royal Commission to enhance the operations and management of the Royal Malaysia Police in 2004 and 2005.

“The Independent Police Complaints of Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) annexed to the Royal Commission’s Report was drafted by him as chair of the committee, ” he said, adding that Salleh’s contribution to law and lifelong commitment to fighting for justice was admirable and second to none.

“He will be remembered for his undaunted spirit in challenging the Executive’s decision to remove him as the Lord President, ” he said.

Former Federal Court judge Tan Sri Zainun Ali said while she could not claim to have known Salleh well, she knew of his formidable reputation.

“Words then failed to describe our collective anguish when His Lordship paid a heavy price for enforcing mandates of justice, ” said Zainun.

“The May Day For Justice of his time stood as a silent rebuke. To me, His Lordship represents the Judiciary’s golden years for he was a shining luminary.

“In sending His Lordship to the immortality of history, we must always acknowledge, remember and learn his many sacrifices, ” Zainun said.

Describing Salleh as a towering Malaysian, former Chief Justice Tun Md Raus Sharif said his many accomplishments and contributions to the country were well documented, particularly when he was the Solicitor-General at the Attorney General’s Chambers.

Md Raus said as a Supreme Court (now Federal Court) judge and later as the Lord President (now known as Chief Justice), Salleh had written a number of landmark judgments.

“His judgments have left a legacy and an indelible mark on Malaysian law, society and the country as a whole, ” said Raus.

Recalling his days working with Salleh, former Chief Justice Tun Zaki Azmi told Bernama that Salleh was an honest and very knowledgeable person.

“Back when I was at the Attorney General’s Chambers, everyone was frightened of him. Although he was strict, I admired and respected him, ” he said.

Prominent lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah said he got to know Salleh when he joined the Attorney General’s Chambers in 1977 as a Deputy Public Prosecutor.

“Tun Salleh was the Solicitor-General then. I would see him – literally – daily as his office was at the perimeter of the law library.

“Tun would do his own research and often, he would take notice of the research I was doing. He was hardworking, very clever but conservative and strict.

“I was the only junior officer who could see Tun to consult. Tun would be all ears and heart when discussing the legal issues.

“He would not easily see anybody. Although he entertained to meet up with his legal officers, he was not approachable to outsiders, certainly not informally.

“I can say with conviction that Tun was incorruptible, the most honest man that I have ever dealt with in my entire life. He trained many to have moral courage and dignity.

“Tun was a man of small size but he was a giant in law and justice. Nobody that matters can disagree that the late Tun was not only incorruptible, but was also perceived as such and much more, ” said Shafee.

Another prominent lawyer, Datuk Bastian Pius Vendargon, described Salleh as a good simple kampung man at heart but with a brilliant legal brain and honest with it.

“A man of few words, soft spoken and precise in his language. He was a good judge.

“I had the pleasure of appearing before him at the old Federal Court, ” said Vendargon, who is based in Kuantan.

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