In our Selected Exhortations category, we republish interesting stuff such as must-read articles and essays not originally written exclusively for the blawg, and which have come to our attention. Please feel free to email [email protected] if you would like to reproduce your writing, but first follow our Writer’s Guide here. We publish below the speech by the President of the Malaysian Bar, Lim Chee Wee, at the Dedication and Naming ceremony of the Raja Aziz Addurse Auditorium. The speech is reproduced from the Malaysian Bar Website.

Mengadap ke Bawah Duli Yang Maha Mulia Yang di-Pertuan Besar Negeri Sembilan, Tuanku Muhriz Ibni Almarhum Tuanku Munawir, Duli Yang Maha Mulia Tunku Ampuan Besar Negeri Sembilan, Tuanku Aishah Rohani binti Almarhum Tengku Besar Mahmud.

Ampun Tuanku beribu-ribu ampun, sembah patek mohon diampun.

Terlebih dahulu patek bagi pihak Majlis Peguam ingin merafak sembah menjunjung kasih yang tidak terhingga, di atas perkenan Duli Tuanku berdua, mencemar duli berangkat ke majlis menamakan Auditorium Majlis Peguam dan dedikasi terhadap Allahyarham Raja Aziz Addruse pada pagi ini. Patek dan para hadirin sekalian sesungguhnya merasa amat bangga di atas keberangkatan Duli Tuanku berdua di majlis ini.

Keberangkatan Duli Tuanku berdua ke majlis ini memberi makna yang besar kepada pihak penganjur dan para hadirin sekalian.

Ampun Tuanku.

Patek dengan segala hormat dan takzimnya memohon izin, limpah perkenan Duli Tuanku untuk meneruskan ucapan kepada barisan tetamu yang hadir dalam Bahasa Inggeris.

Yang Amat Mulia Tunku Besar Seri Menanti Tunku Ali Redhauddin Ibni Tuanku Muhriz;

Yang Amat Mulia Tunku Zain Al-Abidin Ibni Tuanku Muhriz;

The family of Raja Aziz Addruse: Catherine Addruse, Raja Azrine Addruse and Jonathan Rogers, Raja Adeline Addruse and Cassidy;

Friends of Raja Aziz Addruse;

Your Excellencies;

Judges of the Court of Appeal and High Court;

Fellow Members of the Bar; and

Distinguished guests.


Raja Aziz Addruse' family at the renaming of the auditorium with Lim Chee Wee | Courtesy: Bar Council

Martin Luther King Jr once said that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”[Strength to Love (1963)] It was the good fortune of the Malaysian Bar, and indeed of Malaysia, that the three occasions on which Raja Aziz Addruse was President of the Bar, were such times. As we all know, Raja Aziz Addruse stood firm and spoke up courageously as a Member of the Bar and as a member of the Bar Council, in the face of attacks and abuse by those in power. That he did so as a President of the Bar will come as no surprise, but, as the last of these occasions was in 1993, when a substantial number of Members were not in practice yet, I hope you will bear with me as I go into the facts in some detail.

It would not be presumptuous of me to say that there can only be one Raja Aziz Addruse (“Ungku”, as he is affectionately known to the Members of the Bar). It is now almost impossible to find in one man all the virtues of a leader, teacher, scholar, human rights activist and friend. It is the Bar’s good fortune that such a man was our leader. It is our good fortune as individuals that we were privileged to know such a man.

As an ordinary Member, member of the Bar Council and President of the Bar, the immense contributions of Ungku to the Malaysian legal system are unparalleled.

He was in practice for 45 years, served as a Bar Council member for a total of 21 years and as a President of the Malaysian Bar, he served for a total of seven years. As I have stated, these were seven years of challenge and controversy. Throughout these years, and indeed throughout his life, Ungku carried himself with dignity and politeness, his every act and statement a reminder that one can take firm positions and deliver strong messages without resorting to strong language, let alone raising one’s voice.

Ungku took over the Presidency of the Bar from V C George in 1976 at the young age of forty. It was a period of time when the Bar was engaged in a heated battle of words in the media with the then-Minister of Law and Attorney General, Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Yusof, over the Essential (Security Cases) Regulations 1975 (“ESCAR”) which changed for security trials the basic rules of evidence and removed the judge’s discretion in sentencing.

Immediately after the Bar’s Annual General Meeting (“AGM”) in February 1976 where the Bar unanimously voted to censure the Attorney General for his “disparaging remarks on the Bar Council and the legal profession”, Ungku, as the new President, had the unenviable task of chiding the Attorney General by saying, “He should show more respect for the legal profession, just as Members of the Bar are giving him respect due as the Attorney General.”

Five months later, the Government continued with the trend of draconian laws when, in July 1976, a Bill was tabled in Parliament to amend Article 5 of the Federal Constitution in order to withdraw from persons arrested, detained or placed under restricted residence of their rights to counsel, to know the grounds of their arrest and to be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of such arrest.

In his Protest Note on behalf of the Bar Council, Ungku reminded the Government that detention without proper trial is bad enough and that these amendments went beyond the limit. He put the balance between security and fundamental rights in proper perspective when he said in his Protest Note:

One basic difference distinguishes those who are loyal to this country from those who are bent on over-throwing it; and that is, that the former have respect for the law. But harsh and unjust laws cannot command respect willingly; and a law which treats persons who may have committed ordinary crimes in the same way as it does communist terrorists cannot be good law. What distinguishes our system of government from that advocated by our adversaries is the fundamental human rights protected by the Constitution. Are these not what we are fighting the Communists for?

[A Protest by the Bar Council, INSAF Volume IX No. 2 (August 1976)]

In August 1977, the Bar’s dire warning of the potential draconian consequences of ESCAR came true when a fourteen year old boy was sentenced to death after having found guilty by Mr Justice Fred Arulanandom (Ungku’s pupil master) on two charges under the Internal Security Act 1960 (“ISA”) for possession of firearms. The then-Secretary of the Bar, Param Cumaraswamy, immediately sent a telex message to the country’s third Prime Minister, Datuk (later Tun) Hussein Onn, voicing the Bar’s concern with the conviction of a juvenile; Ungku was overseas attending the LAWASIA Conference in Seoul. Param was required by the police to make a statement regarding his telex and its publication in the press.

After his return from Seoul, Ungku wrote a letter to the Prime Minister reminding him that as one trained in the same legal system and a former practising Member of the Bar, he should be aware of the role of the Bar Council. Ungku’s reminder remains apt in today’s state of affairs, so I make no apologies for quoting it at length:

There is, to my mind, an inherent danger in the Executive being too sensitive to criticism. As you know, the essence of democracy, as it is practised in this country, is the right to dissent within proper limits; and it would be a very sad day for this country if the police were to regard every person voicing his criticism of Government policies or actions within those limits, as a potential criminal or enemy of the state. . . . the Bar Council, in the expression of its views and opinion of Government policies and actions, has been motivated solely by a desire to seek justice and to uphold the rule of law. The Council is not interested in politics or ideologies.

[Letter to the Prime Minister dated 20 Sept 1977, INSAF Volume X No. 2 (1977)]

Not content with mere public statements and open letters, the Malaysian Bar convened an Extraordinary General Meeting on 18 Oct 1977 and passed, by an overwhelming majority, a Resolution to “advise Members of the Bar not to appear in trials under (ESCAR)” . In response, the Government accused the Bar of depriving an accused person of his constitutional right to choose a defence counsel of his choice.

In his inimitable style, Ungku responded in writing by describing the accusation as “too contrived”, and elaborated that:

…[a lawyer’s] appearance in court at these trials did not seem to have any significance beyond lending to the whole proceedings a semblance of respectability and impressing upon the world that to all intents and purposes the ritual of a proper trial had been observed and that the accused person had been properly convicted and deserved the mandatory sentence passed on him. It is this that the Bar is against; and it is in this context that one must consider the feeling of the Bar when deciding to pass the resolution.

The extent of the Government’s displeasure at the Bar’s principled stand may be gauged from the amendments it introduced to the Legal Profession Act 1976. These empowered the Attorney General to issue a special certificate for admission as an Advocate & Solicitor, ostensibly to appear in security trials where no local counsel could be found to represent the accused persons. In addition, Members of the Bar who hold political or trade union positions or were below seven years of practice were disqualified from holding any positions in Bar Council or State Bar Committees, and a quorum of one-fifth of total membership for any general meeting was introduced.

Notwithstanding this flexing of Government muscle, the Bar, under Ungku’s leadership, continued to uphold its tradition, and indeed its duty, of speaking up against injustice and unjust laws.

During Ungku’s first term as President, he enjoyed the rare privilege of speaking at the elevation ceremony of one of his best friends from university days, the then-Honourable Justice Lal Chand Vohrah. During his speech, Ungku elaborated on the necessary qualities of judges, where he said:

But whatever the recommended conduct may be, one basic quality there must be: as Francis Bacon said, “Above all things, integrity is their portion and proper virtue.” It is this virtue that will inevitably impel a judge to conduct himself in a manner designed to achieve the ends of justice and becoming the dignity of his office – to hear courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly and to decide impartially; and this virtue I have no doubt your Lordship has.”

[Speech of Raja Aziz Addruse as President of the Malaysian Bar (1976-1978) at the elevation ceremony of then-Justice Lal Chand Vohrah.]

A reluctant leader, Ungku’s own words as to why he stood for the Bar Council elections for the 1987/88 term were that he was “press-ganged to agreeing to stand for election to the Bar Council” by Gopal Sri Ram, Cecil Abraham and Vinayak Pradhan. He only took on the presidency for this second occasion because Peter Mooney, then-Vice President, declined for personal reasons, and to enable the new Vice-President to get used to the duties of the office.

Raja Aziz Addruse | Courtesy: Bar Council

Little did Ungku realise the storm that lay ahead – the unprecedented suspension of Tun Salleh Abas, the Lord President of the Supreme Court, and subsequent suspension of five judges of the Supreme Court, which culminated in the dismissal of the Lord President and two of the five judges. Ungku was counsel for Tun Salleh during the period from May to November 1988, which meant that the Vice-President, S Theivanthiran, had to chair general meetings that considered this crisis.

The Malaysian Bar unanimously passed – with 1,002 Members present out of a total membership of 2,600 lawyers – at the Extraordinary General Meeting held on 9 July 1988, a special resolution criticising the Prime Minister Datuk Seri (later Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad for acting inconsistently with the independence of the judiciary, protesting the tribunal proceedings and to institute contempt proceedings against the Acting Lord President Tan Sri (later Tun) Hamid Omar for alleged obstruction of the sitting of 2 July 1988 and for making representations to suspend the five Supreme Court Judges. After the release of the Tribunal’s recommendations, described as one of the most despicable documents in legal history by Geoffrey Robertson QC, Ungku issued a press statement that clinically and meticulously destroyed the Tribunal’s recommendations and concluded by describing, “Tan Sri Hamid’s continued presence as a member of the Bench is unhealthy and seriously compromises the integrity of the Judiciary”, and called on him to immediately resign from all his judicial posts [Press statement dated 9 Oct 1988].

Ungku wrote a book with the title “Conduct Unbecoming: In Defence of Tun Mohd Salleh Abas” as a rebuttal to a book written by a New Zealand lawyer whose book was a defence of the dismissal of the judges, and Ungku dedicated his book to his just over one thousand fellow Members of the Bar who voted for the 9 July 1988 special resolution.

Ungku’s third and final tenure as President arose out of the aftermath of the same crisis. Attempts at the Bar’s AGM of 14 Mar 1992 to overturn the special resolution were rejected by a large majority: 809 against and 52 in favour. Ungku was one of a number of speakers at the AGM who defended the special resolution. The then-President resigned over differences with the Bar Council, and once again Ungku was called upon to step into the breach, and restore unity to the Bar.

Ungku was not only a President for judicial and national crises, he also looked after the interest of Members and he was concerned with the quality of young practitioners. During his term as President in 1992/1993, the Bar introduced a mandatory professional indemnity insurance scheme in the interests of Members and their clients, and a compulsory ethics programme for pupils in chambers.

Ungku was a regular speaker at the biennial Malaysian Law Conferences, and I wish to share with you some of his wisdom.

On the importance of free speech, Ungku said:

The Government has no right to prevent a man from writing, publishing and distributing a pamphlet or a book. The government could not keep ideas from being communicated, but it could punish a man for what he has said after he had said it. There are, however, exceptional circumstances which empower the state to impose prior restraint but these should be very limited. In general, a man must be allowed to say whatever he pleases even though, in some circumstances he may later be punished for having said it.

[“The Role of the Press in a Democratic Society” by Raja Aziz Addruse, Fifth Malaysian Law Conference, 25-27 Oct 1979.]

And, on the role of the legal profession:

As a profession, the Bar is looked to by the public for advice on legal matters whether contentious or non-contentious for the purpose of ascertaining, establishing or enforcing rights. In the performance of his professional duties as a lawyer, a member of the bar may find himself having to represent his client against influential personalities, powerful organisations and even the Establishment; and if he is to do justice by his client, he must be prepared, and is, by rules of conduct and etiquette applicable to him, enjoined, to undertake his duties without fear or favour. The need for the lawyer to act without fear or favour in advocating his client’s cause is evident if one considers the nature of his profession.

[“Importance of the Independence of the Bar” by Raja Aziz Addruse, (1983) 2 CLJ 181]

I would be remiss in not saying this – although it may come across as blowing one’s own trumpet, for which, do excuse us – for one legacy that Raja Aziz Addruse leaves us is the standing of the Malaysian Bar, which is recognised at home and abroad for its willingness to speak without fear or favour on matters concerning justice.

In this context, Ungku would have welcomed the Malaysia Day speech made by our Prime Minister on 16 Sept 2011, on abolishing the ISA and other detention without trial laws such as the Restricted Residence Act 1933, Prevention of Crime Act 1959, the Banishment Act 1959, elements within the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act and the Printing, Presses and Publications Act 1984, as well as the revocation of the various Proclamations of Emergencies. He would also have scrutinised with a keen eye the actual words in which these promised reforms are eventually couched.

This takes me on to the more personal legacy that Ungku has left to all Malaysian lawyers. I started my speech by saying that there can only be one Raja Aziz Addruse. That his professional brethren recognised this is attested to by the number of lawyers, myself included, whose reaction to a crisis is to ask themselves, “What would Ungku have done?” The answer tends to be easy to summarise, slightly harder to put into practice. He would have taken an unwaveringly moral stand, couched in terms at once certain and polite, and he would have maintained this approach against all challenges, in the face of all adversities, without thought of personal consequence.

It is this high standard, coupled with the example he set of how to live up to that standard, which is his ultimate legacy.

Ampun Tuanku beribu-ribu ampun, sembah patek mohon diampun.

Sekian sahaja ucapan patek. Akhir kata patek mewakili pihak Majlis Peguam ingin merafak sembah menjunjung kasih yang tidak terhingga, di atas perkenan, Duli Yang Maha Mulia Yang Dipertuan Besar Negeri Sembilan, Tuanku Muhriz Ibni Almarhum Tuanku Munawir, Duli Yang Maha Mulia Tunku Ampuan Besar Negeri Sembilan, Tuanku Aishah Rohani binti Almarhum Tengku Besar Mahmud, mencemar duli berangkat ke majlis menamakan semula Auditorium Majlis Peguam dan dedikasi terhadap Allahyarham Raja Aziz Addruse pada pagi ini.

The inaugural Raja Aziz Addruse Memorial Lecture followed the opening of the newly renamed auditorium. The text of the lecture, delivered by retired Chief Justice of India JS Verma, can be read at the Malaysian Bar Website.

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4 replies on “Raja Aziz Addruse: One of a kind”

  1. He was as political as any other member of the Malaysian Bar. And in so being he was inclined to be biased along his political beliefs and views which he wore on his sleeve. So much for being forensic and detached as a lawyer.

    His contempt for the courts by refusing to appear before certain judges because of their “involvement” in the judicial crisis was the farce that rolled back the veneer of independence and respectability he claimed others lacked.

    Regardless of how one perceives the character or nature of judges or other practitioners, there is an overriding obligation to set that aside when appearing in court. To do otherwise is to judge them and to bring the courts into disrepute.

    Another contemporary of the Ambiga school of independence without fear or favour.

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  3. Thank you for introducing a real 'anak malaysia' to the nation- is there a book on Raja Addruse

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