Tough judge with a gentle side

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 07 Nov 2004

Having served in the judicial and legal sector for almost four decades, with the last two years as the country's number three judge Tan Sri Haidar Mohd Noor will finally call it a day tomorrow. He sat down on Friday to muse over the memorable moments in his life and his immediate plan to have a few rounds of golf with his kakis, CHELSEA L.Y. NG has the story

JUSTICE Haidar Mohd Noor has a heart of gold. He sacrificed his chance to pursue a degree in Australia in the late 1950s so that his three younger siblings would not go hungry. He also did not want to deprive them of basic formal education after a tragic accident robbed them of their father. 

Yet, when it comes to deciding a case, he displays no emotion at all. He decides without fear or favour. 

“When my father died, he did not leave any pension. All he left was a small sum of gratuity payment. My two sisters and a brother were still schooling then. The youngest sister was only seven. 

Haidar: 'I am not a hanging judge. I guess I am lucky to have to do it more than once'

“I was 17. I had no choice but to work. I got a job as a temporary teacher while waiting for my results. 

“When the results were out, I continued to teach at a Malay school,” he said, adding that he later got a job with the trading firm Henry Waugh (now known as Jardine Waugh) and worked for six years until 1964. 

He said the job in the trading firm exposed him to the hard knocks of the business world. 

“I was a clerk. Then I was placed in the store department and later was also doing sales. I remember going from one village to another selling the headache pill called Vinac. 

“They said I needed to have the experience before I could be an executive,” Haidar casually related. 

He chose to pursue a law degree in 1964 because that was the only course that allowed a “mature” student with no Higher School Certificate (HSC) qualification to enrol. 

“You would be surprised who sponsored my law studies – a chettiar named N.T.S. Arumugam Pillay. 

“He was grateful to my mother because she helped him set up an MIC branch in Cherok Tok Kun and the MIC candidate won in the elections,” Haidar said, with a great sense of respect for his late politician mother, Cik Bee Noor. 

The father of four, who turned 65 in May, expressed no regret over his choice to do law. 

“I am happy with what I am landed with. I thought I would end up at the Court of Appeal stage. I did not expect to be made a Chief Judge. 

“It is a blessing. In fact, I am luckier than so many others to be able to live healthily and work until 65. It is a good age to retire,” he said with a chuckle. 

His admiration for his mother, who was widowed at 40, was obvious during the two-hour-long interview. 

His father, Mohammad Noor Mohammed, a district office chief clerk, was killed in a traffic accident while on the way to fetch Cik Bee from a kenduri where the Alliance was celebrating Independence in November 1957 with then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman as the guest-of-honour. 

Haidar, despite being sandwiched between eight other siblings, had the fair attention of his mother, who was a pioneer woman leader in the fight against the formation of the Malayan Union in 1946. 

“It was through her effort that I studied law. She contributed a lot to the state and the people knew her well.  

“When my father died, Tunku Abdul Rahman came for the funeral. There was even a motorcade led by Tunku and (Penang’s first chief minister, the late Tan Sri) Wong Pow Nee,” he said, beaming with pride. 

Memories of his mother also brought him close to the Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim subject. 

“The toughest case I had come across was when sitting on the Bench for Anwar’s appeal against the conviction on corrupt practice charges. 

“It was tough because it was more technical in nature and I know the family. His mother and my mother were in politics together in Bukit Mertajam. My mother was the leader and his mother the secretary,” he said. 

Cherok Tok Kun was a small place. Everyone knew everyone. 

“I remember sending my mother to his mother’s house and seeing Anwar, who was a skinny teenager then.” 

He said that his mother was also very dedicated to her work.  

“In 1969, when the Alliance lost to Gerakan (an opposition party then) in Penang, she cried. 

“We felt sorry because only then did we realise that she was very serious about her social and party work,” he said. 

Although none of his siblings entered politics, they inherited their mother’s sense of dedication to a cause. 

To Haidar, it is a quality he took with him into his long career. 

“One must be prepared to learn. If one is interested in what one is doing, half the battle is won. The formula is dedication and interest, and one must not be a clock-watcher. You must be able to sacrifice time for work.” 

“The other half is experience,” he added with his usual serious countenance. 

“Even judges sometimes need to bring their work home to avoid accumulating arrears. Apart from being lazy, this is why some judges accumulate arrears.” 

On this note, he ventured to talk a little about the lack of judicial management in the judiciary. 

“Judges must be more proactive. It is not like before. We should be open to criticism. 

“When we scrapped the fast track system, we were criticised. I was one of those who felt that the system could not work. 

“It was better for each court to manage its own cases. At the end of the day, it all boils down to management skill. If you are a good manager, you will have no problem,” he said. 

As for boosting the productivity of a judge, he said: “A happy fellow will perform. The key is interest and to hear out a person in your charge,” he said. 

Another quality that he possesses, and this was confirmed by his staff, is humility.  

“My mother’s advice to me was not to be rude to any one or act roughly against others. She said be nice to people and treat them well, but be firm,” he said. 

He said he had given the very same advice to young officers who appeared in his court. 

“I told them not to lose their head. Some of them are young magistrates and they start scolding people when they are on the Bench. 

“I asked them how would they like it if they decide to practise and someone else starts scolding them,” he said, looking a little upset. 

Haidar has passed the death sentence only once in his entire career as a judge. 

“I am not a hanging judge. I guess I am lucky not to have to do it more than once but judges should not be afraid to pass the death sentence if the evidence points to it,” he said. 

As for the most memorable moment in his career, he cited the impeachment of former Lord President Tun Salleh Abas in 1988.  

“As the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, I was very much informed of the action taken. At the tribunal against the five judges of the Supreme Court, I was the star witness. 

“It was a very tough time for me because on one side Tan Sri Wan Sulaiman Pawan Teh was threatening me with contempt if I did not follow his order and on the other side, Tun Hamid Omar was assuming the power of the LP and directed me to act otherwise. 

“When I was called up, I said that I was only a civil servant and it was not for me to question the acting LP’s order. Tan Sri Wan Sulaiman said he could cite me for contempt and I said if I had to go to jail, I would,” he said. 

Despite the bitter episode, true to his down-to-earth personality, he said he did not “feel really bad” about it as “I was just doing my job”. 

This unpretentious trait showed up during the interview when he said he was leaving the job with a heavy heart, but he quickly added: “Well, you can’t work forever, can you?” 

His keenness to retire and relax was evident when he disclosed that he was adding a study to his double-storey corner lot in Bandar Utama to accommodate all his books and judicial paraphernalia. 

Just 72 hours to his retirement day, Haidar has also arranged with some kakis for a golf game at the Tropicana course after Hari Raya. 

He is learning again how to drive and trying to get used to being a retiree. 

“All I want to do is to relax. I will start by tuning my mind to think that I am going on a long Hari Raya leave. Don’t be envious,” he said gleefully.  

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