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SUFFIAN BlN HASHIM was born on November 12, 1917 in a hamlet on the banks of the Perak River in the northwestern state of Perak, Malaya. Malaya was at that time, and until 1957, part of the British empire. His parents, Haji Mohamed Hashim and Zaharah Ibrahim, lived in a simple rural environment and his father was a kathi, an official of the Religious Affairs Department. He attended the Malay-language school in Lenggong for his first four years, transferring at age 11 to Clifford English School in Kuala Kangsar. He was always at the head of his class, received three double promotions, and graduated from high school in 1933, winning a Queen's Scholarship in 1935, the first Malay to do so. His English headmaster commented: "SUFFIAN has by his success brought credit not only to the school and the state, but also to the whole Malay race. He has provided a striking example of what a Malay boy can accomplish—without money and without influence—if he possesses ability and determination." The scholarship enabled SUFFIAN to attend Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge University, England, from which he received a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in 1939 and a Bachelor of Laws in 1940. In January 1941 he was called to the Bar at Middle Temple, London. On his way back to Malaya at the end of the year he found himself stranded in Colombo, Ceylon, as Japanese armies overran his homeland. The next three years were spent in New Delhi, India, as newscaster, commentator and eventually head of the Malay Unit of All India Radio. The last year of the war he was back in London as Malay sub-editor and language supervisor for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). He believes his work in radio was excellent training for his future years on the bench; on radio he had to learn to write and speak clearly, briefly and to the point. In 1946, while still in England, SUFFIAN was recruited into the Malayan Civil Service (MCS): "I was the first native officer to be recruited directly into the MCS though I had been turned down previously for that service because I was told, despite being a barrister with two degrees from Cambridge, I had no experience. I was later, also during the war, turned down for the Legal Service for the same reason. " After the war, however, he was accepted as a member of the MCS, and took a course in public administration given first at Cambridge University and then at the London School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies at
however. to the city of Malacca. In 1954 he was briefly Federal Counsel at Kuala Lumpur and then became the first Malayan appointed as Legal Adviser. This oversight was taken care of by appointing him concurrently Harbor Master for the port of Malacca. a lower court judge. In the report. "I had not touched the law for seven years.000 government servants. the only position for which there was a vacancy. but "thanks to the kind and tactful advice of my clerks and interpreters I soon acquired a rudimentary knowledge of the art of dispensing justice. SUFFIAN suggested that the government make greater use of its power to dismiss civil servants for inefficiency and suspected corruption. issued in 1967. Becoming a magistrate instead of a district officer was quite a shock. Classes." He was the first Malay to be appointed to such a post." the report of the Special Commission on Salaries for the Civil Service. ranged from surveying and field engineering to accounting and social anthropology. 1949. and later State Secretary. Besides his excellent university training SUFFIAN brought back from England to Malaya an English bride. an underdeveloped state on the east coast. When he finally returned to Malaya in 1948." public servants should take the lead. This should apply at state as well as federal level. was established to revise salaries and conditions of service for the 200. The commission. He urged more emphasis be placed on excellence in government service and less on seniority. he was assigned not as a district of officer but as a circuit magistrate. In 1956 SUFFIAN was assigned as Legal Adviser to the State of Johore and was appointed by the Conference of Rulers—the official body of sultans and governors of the various states—to . Dora (Bunny) Evelina Grange. designed to prepare him for service as a district officer." he noted. In Pahang SUFFIAN formed ideas about public administration which he incorporated years later in the "Suffian Report. During the next four years he served as Deputy Public Prosecutor in Kuala Lumpur— where he learned much about the practice of law—and then in Johore Bahru. in Pahang.London University. They had met in 1939 and corresponded while he was in India but they were not married until May 1946. At the end of his first month on the bench—and after he and his wife had exhausted their savings—he learned that the government had failed to make arrangements to pay him a salary. but not the only one in store for him. noting that since the country is constantly encouraged "to do better. SUFFIAN was officially transferred from the Malayan Civil Service to the Legal Service on January 1. which he chaired.
The courts do not sit as units. 5 in Borneo). its usual workload is 18 one-week sessions. The Chief Justices of the two High Courts have specific responsibility for the lesser courts in their areas. The court normally sits in divisions of three and hears cases on circuit. is unitary. 1957. The Lord President has overall responsibility for all the courts of Malaysia. Sarawak. The constitution for the Federation of Malaya (which became Malaysia in 1963 when the states of Sabah. Both state and federal governments are served by parliamentary legislatures. are entitled to a pension. In the case of High Court judges. and the state level. and cannot be removed from office except by a panel of five of their peers. or Judges of the High Court (18 in Malaya. presided over by a king chosen for a five year term from among nine ruling sultans. All judges of the Federal and High Courts are appointed by the king. The independent judicial system. and after consultation with the Conference of Rulers. These are presided over by Chief Justices who also sit on the Federal Court. The supreme court of the land is the Federal Court. It recognizes two levels of government. His work in helping draft the national constitution resulted in his being requested in 1959 by the Sultan of Brunei (an independent Malay state on the island of Borneo) to help draft a constitution for that country. but the individual judges preside over courts at the various state capitals. there are no state courts. On the second level are the High Court of Malaya and the High Court of Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak). joined) became the law of the land on August 31. the federal level. Each of today's 13 member states also has its own constitution and is governed by a sultan or a governor. . depending upon its political past. They hear appeals from the two High Courts. on the advice of the prime minister. presided over by the Lord President of Malaysia. however. and briefly Singapore. the sultans or governors of the states for which they are being considered for assignment are always consulted as a matter of courtesy and practical politics.advise them in drawing up a constitution for the about-to-be independent nation. The Lord President and the Chief Justices are assisted on the Federal Court by four other judges appointed to that court. With the exception of Muslim religious courts. Judges must retire at 65. They are assisted by puisne judges. including appeals in constitutional disputes. Federal courts enforce both federal and state law. Below these are Sessions and Magistrates' courts.
honesty and impartiality of judges is of particular importance in Malaysia which is a multiracial society. He led the delegation to the second such conference in 1960 and visited Tokyo that same year to attend the U. at the youthful age of 44. SUFFIAN himself has not only served on the Special Commission on Salaries. and in 1962 he traveled to Rio de Janeiro to attend a Conference of the International Commission of Jurists. the Chinese and the Indians. concurrently. whose role is advisory and ceremonial. "shaping it. During these years. he writes. As SUFFIAN writes in the Malayan Law Journal. 1958-1968. but he has been Co-Chairman of the National Relief Fund Commission (1969-70) and a number of university commissions. They must watch their relationships with the executive branch and with federal public officials in general. Pro-Chancellor of the University of Malaya. In 1964 he was appointed.N. "the youngest and the most senior legal officer in the Legal Service. SUFFIAN has helped guide the university by his wise counsel. In 1961 he was the Deputy Leader of the Malayan Delegation to the U. The Malays barely equal the total of the two major recent immigrant groups. In 1958 SUFFIAN had been appointed senior Federal Counsel. The following year he was transferred to the state of Kedah. He served in this position until 1961 when he was appointed. Since the office of chancellor is also largely honorary the pro-chancellor frequently acts for the chancellor. SUFFIAN was also asked to serve his country in the international sphere. Conference on Human Rights. "as the finest academic ." and in 1959 he became the first Malayan to serve as Solicitor-General. a judge of the High Court of Malaya and assigned to Kuala Lumpur." as one colleague states. Judges must also be willing to take on the extra duty of serving on commissions where impartiality needs to be guaranteed.The independence. Conference in Vienna on Diplomatic Immunity. The Pro-Chancellor of the University of Malaya is responsible for presiding over the Court and Council of the university and acting in the absence of the chancellor (the Sultanah of Kedah and a former Queen of Malaysia). and the Rulers' Constitutional Advisory Committee. they must be seen by the public as impartial. both of whom are economically more advanced than the Malays. In 1958 he was sent as the sole Malayan delegate to the First United Nations Conference on Law of the Sea. judges must not only be impartial. so that they may neither seem to favor government at the expense of the public.N. nor to be biased toward federal rather than state institutions.
" he stated. "You owe it mostly to your humble fellow citizens whose poverty. economics and science graduates in June 1971 he said that Malaysia needs to turn out enough graduates "with the expertise relevant to our national requirement. "I am certain that the private sector can profit from the experience of public servants and government service can profit from the experience of persons from the private sector. nor does it give them license "to disrupt harmony and destroy the nation. no matter what their racial origin." He pointed out to students that the University of Malaya costs more to operate than most states—M$30. he said." At convocations in 1973 SUFFIAN advocated more sub-university institutions to produce urgently needed skilled manpower at a subprofessional level. He noted that every engineer the university graduates requires eight technicians to assist him." To the engineering." the university should bear this in mind. He also stated his belief that universities have probably overreached their optimum size. Some means of carrying pensions over should be studied. noting that "there is no true academic freedom without financial independence. he pointed out that academic freedom does not set faculty and student above the law. He also took this opportunity to suggest that government pension arrangements should be made more flexible so that mobility between government and private sectors would be possible. A university." but added that the "political cost of producing unemployed and unemployable graduates is more than the political cost of producing too few. "You owe a debt not only to the taxpayer whose money has made it possible for the government to provide schools and universities.4 million for Negri Sembilan.institution in the country." but people are reluctant to leave the government because they lose their pension rights. Moreover he chose to point out at this time." Responding to student unrest. he stated. should be your concern to reduce or eliminate. should stay small so that . for example—and that this cost is borne by the country as a whole.6 million versus M$26." He has used the occasion of convocation and other university events to expound his ideas on the role of higher education in Malaysia. At a 1970 convocation he urged the University of Malaya and Malaysia's two new universities to eliminate duplication—without smothering healthy rivalry—and to try to find some way to lessen their dependence upon government financing. that "cooperation between the communities [racial and religious] is the most valuable instruction which universities can impart. as he has on many others." The frustrated can easily turn into "dangerous malcontents.
but cultural and sports attractions to the community at large. and on November 1. As Chief Justice he not only heard cases and considered the admission of lawyers to the bar. He firmly believes in the old adage. He can always point out to the executive branch where laws are no longer valid and hope that the legislature will be persuaded to take action. a position in which he had been acting for several months. a position he will hold until his retirement at age 65." Just two months after his appointment as Chief Justice—January 5. 1973 he was chosen Chief Justice of Malaya. He is a "gradualist and traditionalist" who believes that although laws need to be changed to keep up with the changing needs of society. SUFFIAN’s concerns as Lord President are the same as they have always been: to uphold the law and apply it as justly as humanly possible. He has also been for over 10 years External Examiner in Law for the University of Singapore. the supreme court of Malaysia. From 1972 to 1974 he chaired the important and prestigious Higher Education Advisory Council. but if he errs it should be on the side of the . he believes that the University of Malaya should develop a graduate center so that students will not be forced to go abroad for postgraduate work. A judge should be even-handed. Lord President of Malaysia. now moving from Kuala Lumpur to Bangi.students can have an opportunity to know each other and their professors. especially in the outlying courts. "justice delayed is justice denied. Universiti Kebangsaan. He further commented that any new university should be sited away from the federal capital (Kuala Lumpur) since universities serve as a catalyst for progress. He must interpret the law as it is. this is not the judge's prerogative. They provide jobs and offer not only educational. SUFFIAN’s first effort on assuming this new position was to try to reduce the backlog of cases that existed. Such institutions will have fewer problems and the students will experience less frustration. As a result of his position and experience as Pro-Chancellor SUFFIAN in 1968 headed the team of experts to draft the constitution of the University of Science in Penang. but was responsible for all lower courts in peninsular Malaysia. 1974—SUFFIAN was elevated to the highest appointive office in the land. and in 1969 the committee for drafting the constitution for the new Malaylanguage university. he feels. In 1968 SUFFIAN was appointed to the Federal Court. However.
One lawyer who has appeared before him notes." including government. service not only in one's particular area. His interest in orchids is such that he served on the board of the Malayan Orchid Society in 1964-65 in spite of the other demands on his time. instead they should be excited by the opportunities that go with high office. In 1963 he translated the Malayan Constitution from English into Malay. A fellow writer comments. He shares his wife's interest in ancient ceramics and has been President of the West Malaysian Chapter of the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society for the past two years. Writing is a hobby he continues to cultivate. The Legal System of Malaysia and Malaysian Citizenship. a practice he has followed since he left school. have a close personal relationship and share a mutual interest in their home in Kuala Lumpur. "I like books on history—like biography and autobiography. "Humor. He reads on the average a book a week." rather than on the side of the "big people." He also reads to improve his own style of exposition. SUFF—as he is known to his wife and friends—has already planted a garden of coconut and rambutan trees and is busily growing orchids. The SUFFIANs. gentle humor not only crops up in his writing but in his speech. conciseness and clarity characterize his books and articles on various aspects of Malaysia's law and administration. Earlier awards by the king . who have no children. but outside it also. 1975. Bunny Suffian has furnished it with Malayan antiques which she has been collecting in recent years. to lighten tension in the court or enliven tedious litigation." he remarks. with a colossal memory and a processing mechanism like a computer. SUFFIAN was quoted as saying that those so fortunate "should not be dazzled by prestige. the most recent of which was to be made Tun (the highest title in Malaysia) by the king on June 4. When interviewed about his feelings on appointment to high office. In 1972 he published An Introduction to the Constitution of Malaysia." His wry."small people. He has the rare gift of making a difficult subject simple and interesting. SUFFIAN replied that in retirement (in 1982) he would like to "grow bananas and fruit trees and orchids" and write." SUFFIAN has received a number of honors from his government. respectively. "He is liberal and willing to be persuaded." Asked about future goals. He uses it to hold an audience. and in 1968 and 1970 he published. Another interest is literature. "because I think we can learn a lot from the experiences of interesting and successful people. All this plus that sense of humor of his—he runs a formidable Bench.
As a citizen. both in 1972. having visited the United States two years earlier as an Eisenhower Fellow himself. He was Chairman for 10 years of the Eisenhower Exchange Fellowship Malaysian Nomination Committee. SUFFIAN commands the respect and admiration of all classes in society. and the Meritorious Service Medal in 1963 and the Most Honorable Order of the Crown of Pahang (Second Grade) in 1969 from the Sultan of Pahang. Chief Justice and Lord President. he has devoted himself without thought of gain or recognition to the furtherance of noble ideals in higher education and the civil service. and Vice President of the Commonwealth Magistrates' Association. It is the achievement of MOHAMED SUFFIAN BIN HASHIM that from obscure rural beginnings he rose to become the trusted arbiter." August 1975 Manila . Suffian by J. The positioning of the law in such a multiracial state is crucial to the successful forging of a nation. A friend has summed up SUFFIAN well: "A simple man. And last. Since 1972 he has been Patron of the Malaysian Students Law Society in the United Kingdom and Eire. He has promoted Commonwealth interests as both Vice President and President of the Oxford and Cambridge Society. the Solon-figure in the Malaysian multi-ethnic. multi-cultural and multilingual nation. As judge. He received the Most Honorable Order of the Crown of Brunei (Third Class) in 1959 for his help with the Brunei constitution. He has also been made an Honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of Singapore and an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Malaya. Vice Patron of the MalaysianSri Lanka Society." Another has written: "In a plural society like Malaysia. with little patience for pretentiousness. and has been President of the Malaysian American Society. he has been responsible for institutionalizing the rule of law and justice. but really first. governmental institutions have to stride the fears and hopes of the diverse groupings. in his younger days he was President of the Malacca Malays Football Association. Victor Morais was published in 1974. SUFFIAN’s interests have never been parochial and during the course of years he has given his time to organizations which seek to broaden Malaysia's contacts with the rest of the world.were the Most Distinguished Order of the Pangkuan Negara (Third Grade) in 1961 and the Most Distinguished Order of Chivalry (Second Grade) in 1967. A book about him entitled A Man of His Times: Lord President Tan Sri M.
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