The Relevance of Augustine Paul

A meditation about the difficulty of celebrating the accomplishments or mourning the death of Augustine Paul, the Federal Court Judge, who passed away on 2 January 2010 from pancreatic cancer.

There is no denial that Datuk Seri S. Augustine Paul, was an accomplished man. I have reproduced the write up about him from the Federal Court website below in case they remove his bio-date in due course. But let’s just run by some of the highlights all the same.

Augustine Paul had a wide and varied legal experience with stints as a Federal Counsel and thereafter sitting as a Magistrate, Senior Assistant Registrar, a Sessions Judge before being promoted to Judicial Commissioner. His rise after that from the High Court Judge to the Federal Court was meteoric. He was active in hockey and church. Sacrificed his time to be an external examiner for universities. He was intellectually active and wrote prolifically, writing and editing several books that have become standard references in practice, presented papers whenever he had time and opportunity. All that on top of his job as a judge.

We would and should ordinarily be mourning his death and celebrating his accomplishments and what he stood for in life on his death. This is natural for such accomplishments are deserving of a celebration.

But I, and I suspect others too, have difficulty in either mourning Augustine Paul the Judge or celebrating his achievements. But truth be told, we want to mourn or celebrate him. After all, he is a human being like us when we get down to it. The passing away of one is always occasion for either, more so when that person is a Federal Court Judge, one of the handful of judges who sit in the highest and most powerful court in our country. But why this difficulty?

Sadly, it is due to the man himself. Augustine Paul was a judge. As one, he was tasked with one of the most challenging and difficult job in civilized society – to be a fountain of justice; to ensure that the waters of justice run freely, deeply and clearly into society; to direct its course so that it may cleanse the stained fabric of our nation. It is not a task for everybody. It is a task for only the ablest of men and women in our society – those who not simply possess but exemplify the virtues of honesty, intellect, courage, a strong will, emotional stability, humility, patience, incorruptibility, mercy and always remembering their humanity. Many fail. Few escape with their reputation fully intact. Only a rare handful will have the privilege of walking down the corridor of history.

Augustine Paul will not walk down that corridor. Though he may have believed he was doing right, in the final analysis, his conduct on the bench and his written judgments will show that he had little to do with striving for justice. We will find that his conduct and judgments were very much in favour of the government in power in crucial cases. This was seen most vividly when he was a Judicial Commissioner hearing the Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim trial and reinforced throught his career. And for his abilities and judgments, he was rewarded magnificently – a Judicial Commissioner in 1996; High Court Judge in 1998; Court of Appeal Judge in 2003 and Federal Court in 2005. A Sessions Court Judge to a Federal Court Judge in less than 10 years.

And that is where our difficulty lies: he was a judge; he took an oath to uphold the Federal Constitution and the cause of justice; he may have thought he did it, but that is not enough. We, the public, must feel he did it too. If not that is not justice but merely favouring one over the other. His oath (which can be found in the 6th Schedule of the Federal Constitution) reads as follows:

“I, …………., having been elected (or appointed) to the office of ……………………. do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully discharge the duties of that office to the best of my ability, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Malaysia, and will preserve, protect and defend its Constitution.”

‘Malaysia’ in that oath does not just mean the Chief Justice, the Prime Minister or Barisan Nasional; it means all of us. That’s whom his faith and allegiance should have been to, each and every one of us – the rakyat. And there lies the difficulty – how do you celebrate or mourn for someone who has betrayed you so irretrievably, so steadfastly, without even a shudder of remorse? How?

You may rightly ask, why should someone like me, who didn’t like him and complained about his judgments most of the time now feel sad about not being able to celebrate his achievements or mourn for him? I confess I was surprised I felt this way at all. I really thought that I would be quite happy to read of his death and even celebrate it with friends. But when I actually read the news report, I felt quite sad but didn’t understand why.

After thinking it over, I can’t claim it is the answer but the following explanation does carry some resonance with me. As I have pointed out earlier, Augustine Paul for all his failings, was a human being. As I am. As we both are. And therein lies our commonality – our bond of humanity. But obstructing our bond, are his accomplishments.

So where does this sadness come from? It burns from my inability to reconcile myself to him because of what he did as a judge. It festers because, for me, he refused to redeem himself as a judge by doing justice in his final act as one. If he had written one powerful dissent despite its futility in one of those crucial cases, that would suffice to celebrate Augustine Paul the judge. If he did one heroic act of justice like lodge a police report revealing the corrupt acts that have gone or are going on in the judiciary before he left us all, we would not simply mourn Augustine Paul the judge, but the man as well. But he did nothing.

I must make it very clear that in the above, I only consider him as a judge. Not in other capacities. This is because I, like much of society, only know him as a judge, nothing else. He was not my father, friend or family. He may have been great in those other roles. But I don’t know and it is none of my business.

And this brings me to the part I cannot understand. Why do people blessed with such power, influence and such abilities to do great and good things to further the cause of justice do otherwise? Why do men so possessed of such wealth of intellect, eloquence and learning soil their entire familial heritage in the pursuit of mere money and superficial privilege?

Do they not see that they soil their own name when they do so? Do they not see that they disgrace the name of their fathers and mothers and their children’s as well (because their names are contained there)? Do they not see that all that money, title and things will eventually dissipate and the only good thing we can leave our name and the good we brought to others?

Have they lost knowing the pleasure and wholesome pride it stirs in someone when they are told their father/mother was good and honest, dependable, someone who can be counted to act in the cause of justice, not just her name?

I can only feel for Augustine Paul with what he has left us.

And that is an irreconcilable sadness of what could have been.


The Honourable Mr. Justice Dato’ Sri Augustine Paul was born on October 12, 1944 in Batu Gajah, Perak. He had his early education at Sultan Yusof School, Batu Gajah and Anderson School, Ipoh. His Lordship was called to the Bar of the Honourable Society of Inner Temple, London in 1971 and obtained his Bachelor of Laws Degree from the University of London as an external student in 1979.

Upon graduation, his Lordship started his career in the Judicial and Legal Service as a Federal Counsel in the Attorney General’s Chambers from December 1971 to 1973. He was appointed as a Magistrate in Ipoh in April 1973 and as President of the Sessions Court in Temerloh in December 1973. He was appointed as the Senior Assistant Registrar of the High Court in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan in 1975 and in 1976, as President of the Sessions Court in Melaka. He was then appointed as President of the Sessions Court in Ipoh in 1984 and in Penang from 1987 to 1994. In February 1994, he was appointed as the Head of the Research Unit in the Attorney-General’s Chambers and in May 1994 as Chairman of the Income Tax Appeals Commission.

In August 1996 his Lordship was appointed as a Judicial Commissioner of the High Court of Malaya and was elevated as a Judge of the High Court in 1998; as a Judge of the Court of Appeal on 1 August 2003;and as a Judge of the Federal Court on 17 June 2005.

His Lordship was active in extra-curricular activities and had served as President of the Ipoh Hockey Association, Vice President of the Perak Hockey Association, President of the Parent – Teacher Association of the Light St Convent, Penang and Light St Xavier’s Institution, Penang.

His Lordship has been a Director of the Tun Abdul Hamid Foundation; is a member of the Curricular Development Committee of the Faculty of Human Resource Management and Development in University of Technology Malaysia; is an External Examiner for LL.B (Law of Evidence) in the International Islamic University of Malaysia and an External Examiner for LL.M (Law of Evidence) in the University Malaya.

His Lordship is a prolific legal writer and has written several books, namely, Cautioned Statements (1990) (dual language) 157 pages (CLJ Publishers), Impeachment Proceedings (1990) (dual language) 184 pages (CLJ Publishers), Trial within a Trial (1994) 202 pages (Old Bailey Publishers, London) and Evidence-Practice and Procedure (1994) 796 pages (Pelandok Publications)(Reprint 1995)(2nd Edition 2000)(3rd Edition 2003). The book on evidence is currently the leading textbook on the subject in Malaysia. His Lordship is also a Contributing Editor to Mallal’s Criminal Procedure Code 5th Edition.

His Lordship has also written articles on legal issues which have been published in the Current Law Journal and in the Malayan Law Journal. He had also presented papers at international forums; on Separation of Powers and Law Making Process at the National Institute of Public Administration in Hanoi in 1991; and on the Malaysian Judicial System at the Bond University, Australia in 2000. His Lordship also presents papers at local agencies regularly, namely, University of Science Malaysia, Anti Corruption Agency, National Institute of Public Administration (INTAN), Inland Revenue Board, Bank Negara, Judicial and Legal Training Institute (ILKAP), Malaysian Medical Association, Malaysian Pharmacists Association, Malaysian Accountants Institute and Police Training College.

His Lordship is married to Datin Sri Dr Mary and is blessed with two children, Dr Juliana Sharmini and Alan John.

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Fahri Azzat practices the dark arts of the law. Although he enjoys writing and reading, he doesn't enjoy writing his own little biographies of himself. Like this one. He wished somebody else would do it for him. He has little taste in writing about himself in third person. He feels weird doing it. But the part he finds most tedious is having to pad up the lack of his accomplishments, or share some interesting facts about his rather uneventful life, as if there were some who found that oh-so-interesting; as if he were some famous person, like Michael Jackson. When he writes these biographies, the thought, 'Wei, Jangan Perasaan- ah!' lights up in his head. So he usually just lists what he got involved with, positions he held and blah, blah. But this time. Right here. Right this very moment. Uhuh. This one. This one right here. He's finally telling it like it is.

Posted on 3 January 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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