A sharp mind, a legal legend

PETALING JAYA: “It’s raining in Kota Kinabalu. Tears are falling”. That was how a close friend penned his brief but compelling tribute to Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, who passed away yesterday.

The gripping short message from Datuk Alex Decena, a senior lawyer from Sabah, was among the flood of tributes for the eminent lawyer, judge and prosecutor.

The renowned senior lawyer and former Federal Court judge was 79.

His former pupil in chambers from over three decades ago, Anuar Ghani, said: “Sri Ram had two personas.

“He was a showman in front of clients and in court, but was also a kind man who spent evenings tutoring court clerks, translators and others who sought to pursue law as a profession,” added Anuar, who is now a political secretary in Sabah.

“Once he told me to jump off the 15th floor of Wisma Hamzah Kwong Hing (a building housing some law firms in Kuala Lumpur) because I was not fit to be a lawyer. He had affectionate and endearing terms for me as well as others who passed through his legal stable.

“Now, my old chambering master and boss has passed away. Rest in peace, Ram,” he said.

Carolyn Danker, who worked closely with Sri Ram in the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn Alumni Association, Malaysia between 2004 and 2010, described him as a tough but fair person.

“He was president and I was the assistant secretary and a volunteer.

“I will never forget the kindness he showed me and my family during a very difficult time. Thank you, Judge. Rest in peace,” she said.

Long-time friend Tan Sri Francis Yeoh said calling Sri Ram a legal eagle, a legend, was an understatement.

“Am shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of our beloved friend.

Eminent lawyer, judge and prosecutor: A filepic of Sri Ram and his team leaving the Kuala Lumpur court. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The StarEminent lawyer, judge and prosecutor: A filepic of Sri Ram and his team leaving the Kuala Lumpur court. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

“Will miss his vibrant presence much but his contributions will never be absent from our minds for a long time to come. Rest in peace, my beloved friend,” said the YTL Corp Bhd executive chairman.

Lawyer Datuk Joshua Kevin said many feared Sri Ram when he was a Court of Appeal judge.

“The fear was because he knew the law better than what one could prepare. All lawyers knew he would have read the file and know every detail of the case. His law was sound – hence the fear,” he said.

Joshua added that recently, Sri Ram volunteered to conduct a case for free when he was told that his fee was not affordable.

“Rolls Royce and other flashy cars. Sunglasses. Expensive wines. Strict. Stern. All these were his outer appearance. The real man was kind, compassionate and extremely charitable. I will certainly miss him,” he said.

Datuk Arthur MW Wang, who worked with Sri Ram on a number of occasions, said the latter’s legal mind cannot be described as anything less than great.

“His ability to assign cases on any and almost every issue discussed is spectacular. His practice of the law in both the legal profession and the judiciary has reshaped modern litigation and advocacy.

“A great legal mind and a man in advance of his times,” he said.

Prominent lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who often crossed swords with Sri Ram, said he would miss the latter’s antics and “mischief” in court.

“I knew him when he was a young eager practitioner and I was a ‘rookie’ deputy public prosecutor in 1977.

“We were never meant to be on the same side from the word ‘go’, always crossing swords in many celebrated criminal and civil cases .

“He had an unusual memory of law and history. He was also full of anecdotes.

“What I liked most about him was his never-ageing in thinking, always learning and applying new ideas. My sincere condolences to his family and close ones,” said Muhammad Shafee.

Former attorney general Tan Sri Tommy Thomas said Sri Ram was a national treasure, adding no one post-Merdeka had contributed more to legal scholarship and the administration of justice.

“Sri Ram had a world class brain; he was as cerebral as any in the common law world. Incredibly articulate in speech, and eloquent in prose.

“He was my friend, and I am devastated by his loss. May his soul rest in eternal peace,” said Thomas.

The public can pay their last respects tomorrow at Nirvana Centre KL (Nirvana 2), Jalan Dewan Bahasa, Kuala Lumpur.


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