Unlike many of my friends, particularly the lawyers, I was never blessed to know Yang Mulia Raja Aziz Addruse personally. I had read about his role as lead counsel for Tun Salleh Abas before the Tribunal that eventually recommended the latter’s dismissal in 1988. I was particularly impressed by Ungku’s selection of words and phrases to express his thoughts and arguments, regardless the hostility of the judge, tribunal or legal opponent he was contending with. I may be wrong in my evaluation of his approach, but he came across as almost always pleading with his opponent to see the legal perhaps even moral sense in his arguments, expressing his views in courteous phrases of regret where he did not share the same view expressed by others.
I remember that after Tun Hamid Omar had been appointed Lord President, following widespread angst amongst lawyers, Tun Hamid took the unusual step to ask lawyers whether they recognised his appointment as Lord President before they were allowed to proceed with their cases. If the chords of memory extend far enough, I remember Tun Hamid requesting the same of Ungku. Ungku replied with these or almost similar words- “My Lord, no lawyer in his right frame of mind will dispute Your Lordship’s appointment as Lord President by His Majesty the King. I however dispute the circumstances in which Your Lordship was appointed.” I personally felt that this was a brilliant answer. Ungku had become a legal hero in my heart. I wished then for an opportunity to meet him.
The opportunity to meet Ungku did come my way circa 1998. However, I could only listen to him deliver a speech relating to human rights, not meet him personally. This was at a SUHAKAM conference. I first need to relate to the reader, the events that preceded the speech by Ungku. The conference had seen several speeches by other prominent jurists and lawyers, before Ungku’s arrival. After each speech, members of the audience were invited to pose queries to a panel. A group, relatives of individuals that had been detained under the Internal Security Act, took the opportunity at each interval, to voice their pain and fear, and to ask SUHAKAM and attendees of the conference to seek the government’s release of their loved ones. They were generally ignored and at one occasion, they were told that their grievance was brought to the wrong forum. Ungku obviously felt uncomfortable with the treatment that this group had been given and was the first and only speaker to publicly acknowledge their grievance.
After his speech, I saw Ungku approach the group and speak to them. There was a genuine look of love, sympathy and concern in Ungku’s eyes. Amidst this group, I recognised a face as a friend. I spoke to her and found out later than her husband had been detained. She informed me that Ungku had offered to help. Ungku’s status as a legal hero within my heart was firmly entrenched.
Humility must have been part of his DNA. For a man blessed with so much wisdom and knowledge, Ungku was immensely humble and approachable. I have not heard a single lawyer say otherwise. I cannot think of a better role model than Ungku for any member of the Bar to emulate. Humble, courteous, brave, stoic, principled and kind-hearted. Socrates would have approved of Ungku’s appointment as our Lord President/Chief Justice.
When I was told of Ungku’s untimely demise, I was gripped with sadness and wanted desperately to pay my last respects — this was to be my last opportunity to meet the legend in person. Thanks to a dear friend, Azhar Harun, I managed to. We had made our way to Ungku’s residence, only to find that Ungku’s remains had already been taken to the mosque. I had never entered a mosque before though I stood outside several before. It was perhaps fitting that my first entry into a mosque was to pay my last respects to Allahyarham Ungku. As I bowed my head and prayed, I found it surreal to behold a now silent and stilled, litigator par excellence.
A part of me cried as I imagined Ungku’s mortal remains being lowered into the ground, to be overcome eventually by the elements of the earth that embraced him. The other part of me was comforted knowing that Ungku’s soul had returned to His Maker and that Ungku is now enjoying eternal bliss. My heartfelt condolences go out to Ungku’s family and all who mourn the demise of this great Malaysian son.
“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” – Rabindranath Tagore.