Ex-judge Sri Ram should examine conscience, live ‘hermit’s life’, serve in other ways
French philosopher Rene Descartes, in keeping things in perspective on thinking, declared, “I think, therefore I am”.
Buddha discovered about the mind, “you are what you think, what you feel you attract, what you imagine you create”.
Jesus explained Truth and Faith. Truth (emancipation of the mind) combined with Faith (seeing things which can exist) and commitment (not giving up) takes us to the destination.
Obviously, nothing beyond eternal laws based on eternal truth — read laws of science for one — exist. If they exist, it’s because we have created them.
Nothing, it can be observed, is the be-all and end-all of life. Everyone must have the ability to walk away from it all and do something else before the grim reaper comes. Otherwise, it would be a wasted life. The ancients discovered that chaos remains the only predictable property of the universe. This may be more about opportunities, in the form of blessings in disguise, and not regarding problems brought by disorientation and confusion.
Black And White
Life must have some meaning, sense and purpose. It isn’t black and white only but comes in various shades of grey. There are exceptions, qualifiers, caveats, ifs and buts – unknown author.
Don’t start a story in the middle – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet said on CNN recently when he accused International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour of lying about why Israeli soldiers entered a mosque in Jerusalem. We must look at the whole story and not only parts of it which suit our convenience. Of course, being an unthinking animal, the media can be manipulated.
Things should be better in court.
Still, often it’s difficult to fathom why the court in Malaysia thinks in a certain manner. It’s so stiff. The jury isn’t out on the matter.
It’s almost like the “light years behind” court in Singapore which routinely hangs people for drug trafficking although such sentencing has never worked anywhere in the history of the world. Hangings keep drug trafficking lucrative for the kingpins, if not for those caught, and will never end the menace.
Letter Of The Law
Yet, the court in Singapore has never publicly spoken up on the subject and belabours in the delusion that the letter of the law by itself is the law.
The hangings continue to cause so much international controversy.
We can only console ourselves with the observation in Genesis that “if anything has a beginning, it will have an end”.
So, we await the last hanging in Singapore where the law hasn’t caught up with moral values and where there’s nothing but ignorance of the spirit of the law.
There must be some thinking in court on matters which involve public concern and public interest.
Having said that, it’s interesting that the Apex Court, in denying two Applications on Gopal Sri Ram, held that the former Federal Court judge was “qualified” to prosecute the cases farmed out to him by the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC). This — it was just stating the obvious — must be the proverbial “gem of a discovery”, for want of a better term. See here and here.
The issue in court cannot be whether Sri Ram was “qualified” or otherwise.
The issue does not arise at all. Instead, perhaps by obiter dictum (oh! by the way), the court could have given its views on whether Sri Ram should even be in court at all, and indeed on why, in the first place, the AGC appointed him.
They can leave the matter to his good conscience and trust him to make the “right” decision i.e. not appear in court as Prosecutor or Advocate.
This isn’t about going out precariously on a limb and rooting for judicial activism.
Instead, the court was bogged down by nitty-gritty details on this and that, and that and this, on the letter of the law. It’s the spirit of the law that matters more in the rule of law, the basis of the Constitution.
The public perceptions in the court of public opinion, as evident from reactions on social media, also matter. The court cannot continue to look the other way on social media which keeps questioning its credibility. After all, it’s the people’s court. See here.
Ex-Brahmin (priest caste) Sri Ram — the family having crossed the waters between India and Malaya during the British Empire and therefore prohibited from the priesthood by virtue of the passage (taboo under the Hindu evil caste system’s superstitious rules on ‘polluting’ influences) — would still know that he’s ethically and morally-bound to live a hermit’s life even after court and not only while on the bench.
He would be guided by the civilisational values in Sanatana (science) dharma (duties) which Hindus follow, the Dharma-based Noble Paths in Buddhism and the innumerable Codes of Ethics that cover the judiciary in Malaysia and the Commonwealth.
Sri Ram should be unemployed, not employed. He should not be competing with the lawyers. That’s like having the cake and eating it too.
If Sri Ram can’t resist serving the public, profession and court in some way, it’s not by being in court as an advocate for the other side, getting down into the dirt with lesser mortals who don’t deserve to be thrust into the public limelight, media or no media, or by acting as a prosecutor for no rhyme or reason when the AGC exists.
Sri Ram, having probably never felt the grass under his feet or taken time to smell the roses, can find other ways to find some meaning in life, sense and purpose.
These other ways don’t compromise his dignity as a former and esteemed veteran member of the bench. If there was no Sri Ram, we would have invented him.
The areas worthy of consideration include arbitration, mediation court, helping forge out of court settlements, offering legal Opinion as a Consultant on court cases, contributing to novel developments which the court can declare as law, and being invited as amicus curiae (friend of the court) i.e. impartial adviser to the court on a particular case, and advising on mentorship programmes to increase courtroom skills among the clueless young lawyers misled since independence by the irrelevant LLB programme.
We can recall a time when a Form five certificate would suffice to be admitted to the Inns of Court and Temples in England to qualify as a barrister-at-law. Many of the best lawyers in Malaysia were from these “good old days”.
Others joined a law practice and took the articleship route to be admitted to the High Court. The programme, which turned out great lawyers, has been mothballed if not scrapped.
Sri Ram can rein in fellow retired judges going public lest they risk bringing the institution and themselves into further public disgrace, disrepute, odium and contempt.
He can go through proposed legal reforms or propose legal reforms. It’s not rocket science when the law itself comes from works of plagiarism. There’s no law on plagiarism. It’s not a triable issue.
He can advise on reforming legal education which not only remains light years behind other jurisdictions but continues to be plagued by the infamous quota system which has no place in critical disciplines.
If Sri Ram wants to “humiliate” himself by volunteering at the Legal Aid Bureau, no one would quarrel with him for eating humble pie for a change. He deserves bouquets and praises.
Not About Money
All this wouldn’t be about money, although some fees may be involved in some areas, in Sri Ram’s case, given his age and the journey he has undertaken so far.
In fact, it would be surprising if his work for the AGC wasn’t pro bono (unbilled).
Sri Ram making money from law, needless to say, would be like committing a “crime”, indeed even a corrupt act i.e. making everything one touches to go bad.
It can be argued that times have changed. Still, some things never change. It has been said for more than 2K years, since Jesus, that “man does not live by bread alone”. Principles matter!
If Sri Ram examines his conscience, he would come back to the right path, and walk away from it all, never looking back as he heads towards the sunset. His time has come and gone. In his thoughts, in moments of reflection, he would know whether he fought the good fight.
It’s not his business to go after former Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor.
It was Mahathir Mohamad who woke up one day on the wrong side of the bed and summoned Attorney General Tommy Thomas to do his bidding.
Mahathir was the person, under an unwritten rule, who allegedly kept MACC files on government lawmakers under lock and key in his office.
There were no prosecutions unless the files were returned. It was the rule of law a la Mahathir.
In fact, Sri Ram can render much greater service to the nation by persuading former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his family to settle out of court on alleged money laundering activities.
They live in a glasshouse and continue to throw stones at all and sundry, especially Najib, and blame everyone except themselves for corruption.
Mahathir was allegedly Prime Ministerial Dictator from July 1981 to Oct 2003 and thereby committed, under the law, abuse of power.
Bumiputeraism was used as a euphemism. He proved again, from Thurs 10 May 2018 to Sun 1 Mar 2020 as Prime Minister, that “old habits die hard. A leopard doesn’t change its spots”.
Sri Ram can also persuade Attorney General Tommy Thomas to cooperate with the government committee probing controversial content in his memoirs, “My Story: Justice in the Wilderness” on the AGC.
Thomas refuses to cooperate with the Committee on the grounds that it was “unconstitutional” — no court said that Thomas’ Opinion isn’t law, and in any case, the matter isn’t about the law — and that the “controversial” Committee Chairman J. C. Fong from Sarawak was a “lesser mortal” linked to various “shady characters” on NCR land issues, among others.
Foot In The Mouth
In erring on the side of caution, there’s no doubt that Sri Ram can counsel fellow retired judges against continuing to put their foot in the mouth. They should neither be seen nor heard.
If they can hold their peace while on the bench, not giving even a hint of obiter dictum and/or eschewing judicial activism, it’s difficult to accept that they suddenly and belatedly developed a social conscience after getting on the pension roll. In any case, media or no media, it’s difficult to see whatever they say going down in history, the former judges not being noted for novel developments in the law. See here.
It wouldn’t be the done thing if ex-judges keep a Blog for jurist (legal scholar) commentary and analysis pieces. Lawyers and judges in Malaysia — Tommy Thomas was right — have never been jurists.
In fact, the then Attorney General has been quoted in the media as saying that “there’s not even one jurist in Malaysia”.
Two key areas for Sri Ram are mentorship programmes for courtroom skills and reforms in law education. These go hand in hand since the LLB is an academic programme, CLP and Bar, are not about courtroom skills.
The CLP (Certificate in Legal Practice), run by the Legal Profession Qualifying Board (LPQB), has been described as an anachronism.
Lawyers in Malaysia, having run the gauntlet of bureaucracy in education, have long proposed that the CLP be scrapped and replaced with the proposed Common Bar Examination.
The talent pool in Malaysia can be widened, as in England and Wales after recent reforms, by introducing six months to 18 months law conversion courses for non-law degree holders.
England and Wales have different pathways for Advocates and Solicitors. The latter doesn’t appear in court.
Instead, Sri Ram is bogged down in court at his age where Amnesia, Dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson disease are ever-present risks. It’s telling on the AGC — read Thomas — that it has to fall back on Sri Ram in criminal court. We are told that the AGC has 2K lawyers. – New Malaysia Herald
About the writer: Longtime Borneo watcher Joe Fernandez keeps a keen eye on Malaysia as a legal scholar (jurist). He was formerly Chief Editor of Sabah Times. He’s not to be mistaken for a namesake previously with Daily Express. References to his blog articles can be found here.
The points expressed in this article are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the New Malaysia Herald.