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MGG Tun Sufian - A Legend Dies, excerpts etc.
By web aNtu

28/9/2000 6:49 am Thu

DURING WORLD WAR II, three young Malays -- two army officers in the Indian army and a Cambridge graduate with All-India Radio -- shared a house in New Delhi. Malaya was a colonial shorthand for two Straits Settlements, a colony, four Federated and five unfederated Malay states; it was not to become an entity until 1948 when, in the aftermath of the failed Malayan Union proposals, the Federation of Malaya was formed, a name it kept with independent nine years later. The outbreak of war changed their plans and ensured their tryst with destiny. The trio rose to be highest in their calling in independent Malaya and Malaysia. The young Cambridge graduate rose to be head of the Malaysian judiciary as Lord President of Malaysia, Tun Mohamed Suffian Hashim. Of the two Indian Army officers, one became prime minister (Tun Hussein Onn) and the other chief of the the Malaysian armed forces (Gen. Tun Ibrahim Ismail). The death of Tun Suffian yesterday at 83 yesterday (27 Sept 00), leaves Tun Ibrahim, still in good health despite the ravages of old age, the only one of this trio still alive, and an irrevocable break with the post.

When he died at the home of his good friends, Dato' Wan Yaacob Merican and his wife, Tengku Sofia Jewa, (she was the favourite niece of the Tengku and sister of a former chief of the Malaysian armed forces, Gen. Tan Sri Tengku Osman Jewa) officially from throat cancer but really of old age accelerated by the loneliness he felt when his wife of 50 years, the irrepressible Toh Puan Bunny Suffian, died three years ago.

The tug-of-war between him and his brother over how she should be buried, with her body seized from the mortuary and rushed to Kuala Kangsar for burial in the Moslem cemetry there, when mourners had gathered at the Cheras crematorium highlighted the psudo-Islamic political correctness that prevails in matters of assumed form. He was to tell me bitterly over lunch a few months later that "they were not interested in her when she was alive; they are welcome to the carcass." It was the only time in the nearly two decades I had known him that this bitterness showed. But a part of him had died with it. He was not one to show his bitterness, even his principled opposition to the current travails in the judiciary was a judicial pronouncement as if he was adjudicating the matter. He was not to mention this painful episode ever again, taking it stoically.

The deliberate official slights against him were many, once he decided he would not support the Prime Minister in the years after UMNO was split in 1988. He was for years an adviser to the Standard Chartered Bank here; when it wanted to make him chairman of the Malaysian unit, all obstacles were put in his and the bank's way. It is to the credit of the bank that he was kept on until he decided, years later, to call it a day.

His pain at the continuing confrontation between the Judiciary and the Bar was the more in what he insisted was the destruction of a judiciary that could hold its head with pride with the best judicial systems in the world. He was not an activist, he kept his own counsel, opening up only when amongst friends. I would often join him for lunch in the law officers where the former Lord President, Tun Saleh Abas, whose dismissal from office in the wake of the UMNO dissolution reduced the Common Law judiciary to its lowest depth since it made its appearance in the early 19th century. Quiet though his disposition is, he can be a great raconteur; his cryptic comments of the day given only after much thought. While those around the table sometimes made caustice remarks about the state of the nation, he would remain aloof, coming with a comment that often brought the discussion back to a less controversial discussion.

His steadfast refusal to buckle to pressure, especially in retirement when he was critical of the events that dismissed Tun Saleh Abas, now a Trengganu state executive councillor, and the politically motivated events that reduced the judiciary's central role in the administration of justice. He and his late wife were inveterate party goers, present at most diplomatic and other functions, after his retirement. I saw him last about ten months ago, when he came in with friends for lunch at a restaurant where I also war. I join him for a cup of coffee after. His memory and views were still sharp, but he deterioration in his health was clear. He memory was inclemental, often pausing to stare at you as if to recollect who you are. The two or three times it happened, I repeated my name and he continued to talk without batting an eyelid. But he was already a shell of what he once was. Dato' Yaakob and Tengku Sofia regarded him as their surrogate parents, and took him under their care, bringing him home when cancer complicated his old age and he did not want to remain in hospital. It was there he died quietly and without fus yesterday.

Nothing in his background suggested the heights to which he arose. The son of a Kadi in Perak, he was marked out for high office when he won the Queen's Scholarship -- another Malay also won the Queen's Scholarship about the same time and rose to similar heights as Tun Ismail Ali, the Bank Negara Malaysia governor who after retirement became head of the Permodalan Nasional and whose brother-in-law is Prime Minister -- and went to Cambridge before the War. He returned to Malaya after the War, joined the Colonial Legal Service, and was Malaysia's first postwar Harbour Master, amongst other jobs. He gravitated towards the legal service, and rose swiftly though the ranks to Lord President. Throughout, he kept his own counsel, was fiercely independent, especially when on the bench, and revealed a humanity that shone through like a shining torch. One senior lawyer told me how in a Supreme Court appeal in the early 1970s in which he headed the coram, he asked, after arguments in an appeal against a death sentence for illegal possession of arms, he asked the appellant if he had anything to say. He had. And for about 30 minutes, he harangued the court about the unfairness of the capitalist system and how it was destroying the lives of the people. He, as Lord President, and the two other judges listened patiently through the harangue, asking intelligent questions, and then, as gently as he could, acknowledged the views could be relevant in other systems, but not in the system he and his fellow judges were appointed to uphod and regrettfully upheld the conviction. The appellant cried, thanked the court for allowing him to spek, and accepted the sentence. Contempt of court was an offence even then, but then in those days those appeared in the courts had rights which are now restricted as they should not be.

Tun Suffian would soon be an non-entity as official history is rewritten to comfort the worldview of whoever is prime minister of the day. Malaysia's first prime minister, Tengku Abdul Rahman, is all but ingored officially. If you, as a villager from the interior of Perak, were to visit the National Monument, and read the touristy placard, in badly-written bureaucratise, the Tengku's name is no where there. It was he who commissioned Felix de Weldon, the sculptor responsible for the Ivo Jima memorial, to make the sculpture that dominates the precints of the National Monument. When the Prime Minister took office, he had the Tengku's role in it, desecrated it by re-sculting the de Weldon creation because political correctness decided the figures were not Malayan enough, and Malaysianised it with help from those brilliant worthies who inhabit the Institiut Teknologi Mara. I asked several Malaysians there who the Prime Minister referred to was, and without hesitation, they replied: "Dr Mahathir"! But such actions cannot destroy what they did. They would return to their rightful place in history when new feudal leaders reorient their roles in history by claiming a connexion with the ignored giants of the past.

M.G.G. Pillai


September 27 , 2000 00:05AM


KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 26 (Bernama) -- Tun Mohamad Suffian Hashim, the country's first Lord President, died in Petaling Jaya Tuesday night.

Suffian, 82, died at the home of his friend Datuk Dr Yaakob Hussein Merican and wife Tunku Sofiah Jewa, in Kampung Tunku at 9.37pm.

Dr Yaakob said Suffian, who has been staying with them for the past few months, died of throat cancer.

He will be buried at the Kuala Kangsar Royal Mausoleum tomorrow.

Dr Yaakob said Suffian was diagnosed of having throat cancer in April and admitted to Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (HUKM).

His wife Toh Puan Bunny died three years ago. The couple did not have any children.

Dr Yaakob said Suffian, who has been staying with them for the past few months, died of throat cancer.

He will be buried at the Kuala Kangsar Royal Mausoleum tomorrow.

Dr Yaakob said Suffian was diagnosed of having throat cancer in April and admitted to Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (HUKM).

His wife Toh Puan Bunny died three years ago. The couple did not have any children.

Born on Nov 12, 1917 in Kuala Kangsar, Suffian went to Britain for his higher eduaction.

He read law at Cambridge University and Middle Temple and was admitted to the English Bar in 1936.

When he returned to Malaya in 1948, he was appointed Harbour Master in Melaka and then served as the state's first magistrate in 1948.

He was appointed a deputy public prosecutor the following year before becoming legal adviser to the Pahang Government in 1952 and then as Pahang State Secretary.

Suffian was made a senior federal counsel in 1957, solicitor-general in 1959 and a High Court judge in 1961.

He was appointed pro-chancellor of Universiti Malaya from 1963.

In October 1973, he was made Chief Justice and then Lord President in May 1974, the first local to assume the post.

He retired on Nov 11, 1982.

Suffian became the fifth Malaysian to win the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia's version of the Nobel Peace Prize for government service, on Aug 31, 1975.

He was conferred a Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Universiti Malaya and Honorary Doctorate in Law by the University of Buckingham. --


Some words from Tun Suffians on 1989

Speech by Tun Mohamed Suffian Hashim, The Former Lord President, Supreme Court Of Malaysia (1974 1982), When He Launched May Day For Justice on 15 October 1989, At Holiday Inn On-The-Park, Kuala Lumpur


For some forty years I had spent my life in the law appearing and arguing before our judges and finally for seven years as Lord President, a post I had never thought of attaining even in my wildest dreams when I first entered the public service. Public confidence in an independent judiciary cannot be built up in a day and my predecessors had for generations nurtured and build up a great reputation not only in South East Asia but throughout the Commonwealth.

Until recently, judicial appointment was regarded as a great honour and I took great care to maintain and enhance the reputation of our judiciary as Guardians of the Constitution, Upholders of the Rule of Law, Protectors of the Poor and Oppressed against Tyranny and Criminals. I valued its reputation for integrity, ability and courage to decide disputes impartially, justly and without fear.

To some extent I feel personally responsible for Tun Salleh Abas's misfortune, for it was I who brought him into the Courts from the Attorney-General's Chambers because of his superior qualifications, great ability as a jurist, his seniority in the service and above all, his outstanding moral character. None of these qualities can be taken away by any Tribunal, be it ever so high.

What happened to Tun Salleh and our Supreme Court Judges has shown that what took generations to build up can be destroyed in one day and it will take many years to rebuild.

Our media does not dare to publish the whole truth and expose abuse of power and wickedness, though improprieties in high places do not pass unnoticed by many unhappy practitioners. Consequently the public has only been fed the untruthful and distorted official version of unprecedented episode that brings shame not only to the perpetrators of the crime which left our judiciary in a shambles, but also shame to the whole country.

We watched helpless as a provision written into the Constitution by Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak, Tun Dr. Ismail, Tun Tan Siew Sin, Tun Sambanthan and others to secure the independence of the judiciary, was being diabolically used to wreck it.

This full scale book by Tun Salleh and Mr. K. Das (unlike the witnesses before the Tribunal who were made to swear to tell the truth nothing but the truth) for the first time reveals the whole truth and the real reasons why the high dignitaries directly involved wanted Tun Salleh out of the way costs and unfair devices and means used to achieve their purpose.

I was in Geneva when I first heard BBC World Service of Tun Salleh's suspension and you can imagine how flabbergasted I was. I never thought that what happened in Idi Amin's Uganda could happen in Malaysia. And when foreign friends in Europe, America and elsewhere questioned me about it, for the first time in my life I was ashamed being a Malaysian.

And when later I heard of the identities of the Malaysian members of the Tribunal none were Salleh's peers or betters I knew at once that Tun Salleh's fate was sealed, no matter how just his cause or what he said or did in defence. And so it was. With dazzlind speed, he was out in three months in contrast to a humble clerk who could not be fired in less than three years.

We, who see today's ominous campaign in the controlled media against the Bar, will remember the similar press campaign that preceded the blows that destroyed the independence of the judiciary.

May Allah protect our Judiciary and the Bar, shower His blessings on all of us and punish and destroy the wicked.