“For the first time in my life, I was ashamed of being Malaysian!” said the late Tun Suffian, a former lord president of the Supreme Court, when he heard of the sacking of the then Lord President, Tun Salleh Abas, in 1988.
For some 40 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 dream when I first entered the public service. Public confidence in an independent judiciary cannot be built up in a day and my predecessors have for generations nurtured and built 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 or favour.
To some extent I feel personally responsible for Tun Salleh Abas’ 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 jurust, his seniority in the service and above all, of his outstanding moral character. None of these qualities can be taken away from him by any Tribunal, be it eveer so high. We watched helplessly 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 independencd of the judiciary, was being diabolically used to wreck it.
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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 and nothing but the truth but significantly were not made to swear to tell the whole 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 at all costs and the unfair devices and means used to achieve their purpose.
I was in Geneva when I first heard on the 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 of being Malaysian.
And when later I heard of the identities of the Malaysian members of the Tribunal — none were Salleh’s peers or betters and all but one who wore the same old school tie as the Prime Minister — I knew at once that Tun Salleh’s fate was sealed, no matter how just his case or what he said or did in defence. And so it was. With dazzling 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.
Source: AM Vol.9:11 (1989)
Tun Mohd. Suffian made the above speech when launching MAY DAY FOR JUSTICE by Tun Salleh Abas and K Das on 15 October 1989.
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