Home 2008: 5 Late bloomer with great timing

Late bloomer with great timing

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On two notable occasions, Tunku demonstrated his respect for and upheld the concept of the separation of powers in government, observes Justice Dato James Foong.

Sometime in September 2007, the officials of the Malaysia Inner Temple Alumni Association held discussions with the Treasurer of the Inner Temple, Mr. Stephen Williamson QC, on the possibility of the Benchers of the Inn  honouring the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, the Rt Hon’ble Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj who was a Barrister of the Inner Temple. Tunku was called to the English Bar at the Inner Temple in 1947. The Alumni officially followed up with an official letter to London. Subsequently the Benchers of the Inn unanimously agreed in November 2007 that some form of commemoration to honour the first Prime Minister of Malaysia should be commissioned. The Benchers requested the Alumni for proposals as to how best  Tunku could be honoured.

The Executive Committee of the Alumni studied  this request and finally proposed that a portrait of the Tunku be hung in a prominent place in the premises of the Inner Temple in London. The Executive Committee  then commissioned a senior local artist, Encik Amirudin Ariffin to paint the portrait. The portrait was to be presented to the Inner Temple on 30th June, 2008 by the Malaysian delegation at a special ceremony in London. The Malaysian delegation left for London in mid June to participate in  the 400th Anniversary celebrations of the Inner Temple. It is such a wonderful coincidence that the presentation of Tunku’s portrait  should take place during this momentous occasion.  

It was obvious that it would be difficult for many Malaysians to visit London to be part of this significant ceremony. It was therefore  felt that in order to provide an opportunity for Malaysians –  especially the members of the family of the Tunku –  to be part of the function  honouring the Tunku, a special unveiling ceremony was held in Kuala Lumpur on 11 June 2008. The  portrait was  later taken to London.

The unveiling ceremony was held at 5.00pm on 11 June, 2008 at the Ballroom of the Royal Selangor Club, Kuala Lumpur,  well attended by all those who held Tunku in high respect.

The President of the Alumni, Justice Dato’ James Foong delivered the welcome speech (see below). This was followed by the speech of the British High Commissioner to Malaysia, H.E. Mr. Boyd McCleary. The niece of the late Tunku, YM Tunku Dato’ Dr Hajjah Sofiah Jewa spoke on behalf of the family at this event. At the conclusion of the speeches the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, YB Datuk Zaid Ibrahim was invited to officially unveil the portrait.

Many judges of the Federal Court, Court of Appeal and High Court and judicial commissioners and retired judges attended this function. Among those who attended included YB Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, his wife, Datin Suliana Shamsuddin, Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin bin Haji Abdullah (the former Chief Justice), Tan Sri Siti Norma Yaacob (former Chief Judge of Malaya), Tan Sri Steve Shim (former Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak), Toh Puan Dr. Aishah Ong, the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Malaya, Prof. Dr. Cheong May Fong, the Dean of the Law Faculty, University of Malaya and many members of the family of the Tunku who included his daughter, YTM Tunku Datin Paduka Khadijah binti Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tunku’s cousins, nieces and grandchildren.

Late bloomer with great timing

by Justice Dato James Foong

It is not uncommon for an old and reputable institution like the Inner Temple to have many eminent members, past and present. However, not all are remembered less having their portraits donning the walls of its great halls and corridors. It is obvious that those who are bestowed with this honour must have achieved some sort of notable distinctions.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj  — ‘Tunku’ as we fondly remember him —  is one such great. He is not renowned for his excellence in advocacy conducted in the courts of law for which all alumni of Inner Temple were disciplined but rather for his talent as a great statesman. His assets were his simplicity, kindness, humanity and an understanding of the ordinary man. Blessed with these attributes he was able to unite and lead a diverse ethnic population into meaningful and effective negotiations with Malaya’s colonial master and convinced them to voluntarily grant the then Malaya her independence. Subsequently in 1963, he repeated the same process which led to the formation of Malaysia. The absence of violence and bloodshed to achieve these ends is a distinction in itself.

In addition to this, and more significant, was his practice of good governance and respect of the rule of the law since Malaysia gained her independence. This hallmark has become the expectation by the citizens of this country and is currently being pursued passionately. 

These deeds of Tunku were demonstrated on two occasions where he respected and upheld the concept of the separation of powers in government, particularly between the Executive of the government and the Judiciary; a controversy which is currently under scrutiny in our country. The first was his unsuccessful defamation action against a prominent leader of a political party known as ‘Parti Negara’ in which a High Court Judge, who was appointed just three months earlier on his recommendation, dismissed his claim for lack of evidence. Though disappointed, he accepted the decision graciously without raising an appeal or commenting adversely on the decision.

The second was when, as Prime Minister, he attempted to have an old friend appointed as a High Court Judge. When the Chief Justice voiced his strong reservations over the suitability of this candidate, Tunku totally and implicitly accepted this opinion rather than insisting that the word “consult”, found in Article 122 B of the Federal Constitution which says that a Prime Minister is to consult the Chief Justice before tendering his advice to the Yang di Pertuan Agong on the appointment of a Judge, be given a narrow interpretation.


Commissioning a portrait

Recognising such calibre and brilliance in Tunku, the Inner Temple without hesitation has agreed, upon our proposal made last year, to accept an item in memory of Tunku to be displayed at a prominent place in its premises.

Our committee commenced our deliberation on selecting the most appropriate memento to be presented at the beginning of this year. We took into consideration that the Republic of India had, long before us, presented a sculptured bust of Mahatma Gandhi, which is conspicuously displayed on the first landing of the stairs leading to the Inner Temple’s impressive library. I remembered as a student of the Inner Temple in the 1960s, that on each occasion when I visited this library, the message of righteousness symbolised through the features of this icon inspired me to emulate him. Such was the effect of this piece of display.

Of course, aside from this, there are numerous portraits of current and former Lord Chancellors, Chief Justices and Judges of England and Wales and notable Inner Temple personalities. There is one of Lord Denning in his resplendent robes of the Master of the Rolls. So was one added recently of Lord Woolf, the just retired Chief Justice of England and Wales. His portrait was painted by the notable British artist Andrew Tift, who captured his subject in a relaxed and friendly mood wearing a working suit rather than in gown and wig.  

After much deliberation, our committee settled on an image of Tunku to be painted in oil on canvas. On the suggestion of Tunku Sofia, a niece of Tunku, and the complier of a recently published book on Tunku entitled Prince among Men, we decided to have Tunku’s image painted from a black-and-white photograph taken when he was called to the English Bar by the Inner Temple in 1947. This, we feel is most appropriate in the light that Tunku was a barrister first before he entered politics and it is at his alma mater, the Inner Temple, that his portrait will be displayed.

There is a reservoir of talented artists in Malaysia whom we had the pleasure to choose from to paint Tunku’s portrait, but there was the time and cost factor.  After surveying many local artists and their amazing portfolios, we finally commissioned maestro Amirudin Ariffin for this project. Amirudin Ariffin, hails from Temeloh, Pahang and  is a natural born artist. Before he received any formal training in art schools, he was already a noted portrait painter. He has received numerous accolades both locally and internationally, and many of his works form the permanent collection of our National Art Gallery. He focused in capturing his subjects in their true form. Anyone having his eyes on his portrait of Tunku, would immediately be impressed by the way he captured Tunku’s humility, joviality, and simplicity without compromising on his strong aura of purpose and determination. 

Time is never the factor, but timing is

It is common knowledge that Tunku took 25 years to be called to the Bar by the Inner Temple. The reasons for this extended period are diverse. But all agreed, including the former President of India, Shri Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, a student companion of Tunku in England, that Tunku was then a “fast man, fast cars, fast in his activities and very fast with women” and if I may add, “fast horses” as well. We are also aware that by the time he did pass his Bar Finals he was thrice married with two children. And it is also known that he had never in fact expected to qualify. He admitted this in his opening remarks of a speech delivered on Call Night where he said that “when I registered as a student nearly 25 years ago, little did I dream I would ever make it to be a barrister”.

Nevertheless, there is also another version of the tale provided by Dato Ann Majid, a close friend of Tunku. She was of the view that Tunku was there to secretly prepare himself for his future political activities at home since at that time there was a growing population of young Malay students receiving their tertiary education and Tunku could tap into this pool of potential leaders. Then, of course, there was the intervening Second World War.

Irrespective of the reasons why this late bloomer took so long to attain his professional qualification, Tunku was destined for greatness.  In memory and in honour of his accomplishments, the Inner Temple will receive his portrait from us on 30 June this year in the Hall of Inner Temple on a ‘Private Guest Night’, an event hosted by Lord Justice May, the current Master of Inner Temple. This is some 18 years after Tunku’s demise and almost 60 years after his call to the English Bar. 

Going by Tunku’s experience, time is never the factor but timing is. What is fundamental here is that his portrait will enter into the heritage of the Inner Temple as this Inn celebrates its 400 years anniversary since King James I of England presented the Royal Charter to the Inner and Middle Temple, delineating it as a place to practice and teach law in England. This is indeed a great privilege and honour to our country and our Association.

Justice Dato James Foong Cheng Yuen is President of the Malaysia Inner Temple Alumni Association. 

The above extract is from his speech delivered on 11 June 2008 at the unveiling of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj’s portrait to be presented to Inner Temple, London.

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