Great leader and statesman

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The Tunku was self-evidently a fine man and a great Prime Minister, says Boyd McCleary.

At the outset I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Malaysia Inner Temple Alumni Association (MITAA) for inviting me to this historic event to honour the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj.  I had the privilege of being present at the official inauguration of the Alumni about 18 months ago at this very same venue and am happy to be here again for this historic event.

Britain has enjoyed a long and strong relationship with Malaysia.  Still today the links between our two countries are close in a wide range of areas, but none closer perhaps than in the field of law.

Right up to the 1970s and 1980s no less than 70 – 80  per cent of all those called to the Malaysian Bar were Barristers from England. They include very many luminaries of political and/or legal influence. For example: three of Malaysia’s five Prime Ministers – Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Hussein Onn – around one third of Malaysian cabinet ministers; three of the 12 Kings (Agong); and all but two of the ten Lord Presidents/Chief Justices of Malaysia since Independence have been Barristers from England. About three quarters of currently serving judges are Barristers from England; as are many, many individuals holding senior positions in government and the private sector.


Rule of law: The strongest legacy

This strong British influence on Malaysia’s legal profession and system has helped to shape and underpin Malaysian attitudes to the rule of law, which is perhaps the strongest legacy from the colonial period and remains a critical component in Malaysian society today.  

I am delighted that the Tunku will be honoured by his alma mater, the Inner Temple at the end of the month during a year which marks the 400th anniversary celebrations of the Inner Temple. The preliminary discussions to honour  the Tunku were held at my residence during a dinner my wife and I hosted on the occasion of the visit of the Treasurer of the Inner Temple, Mr. Stephen Williamson Q.C. and his wife, Mrs. Pauline Williamson last September.  I thus have some personal attachment to the decision to honour the Tunku in this way.

I have read a great deal about the Tunku.  He was self-evidently a fine man and a great Prime Minister.  Last year, Tunku’s niece, Tunku Sofiah Jewa gave me two copies of the book on the Tunku, entitled, Prince Among Men, a compilation of articles on Tunku by those who knew him. One copy was for me and the other  for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  I was happy to forward this. The Private Secretary to Her Majesty the Queen not only replied to Tunku Sofiah Jewa on behalf of Her Majesty acknowledging receipt of the book but also conveyed Her Majesty’s strong and warm memories of the Tunku and Her high regard for him.

The book, Prince Among Men helped me to understand the personality of Tunku.  I was struck in particular by the following passages from Tun Suffian’s article.


Friendly, hospitable, jovial, generous

“Tunku and the Malays in London clicked easily. Though a prince he was more democratic than some who claimed to be democratic. Even as a student, he displayed the qualities which endeared him to so many. He was older than most of us. He was friendly, hospitable, jovial and generous to a fault to those of us who were not well off and there wasn’t a single student who in those austerity days had not enjoyed his genial hospitality. His attitude to us was avuncular: in fact some of us who later became Sultans addressed him as Ayah”.

 “Although he seemed to have money, he was not extravagant. He ran a small second hand 10 h.p. Morris which was usually seen carrying two or three student friends of his. Our favourite place was Freddie Mills Chinese Restaurant in a basement on Charing Cross Road in which the then well-known boxer had an interest though we had never seen him there. Students from Malaya when we ate out together went Dutch. Each man paid for what he ate and drank. We did not ask for one bill, and then divide the total amount by the number in the group, as was and is the practice in our country. We did not follow this custom when we went out with Tunku; he paid the entire bill.This suited us well, especially since Tunku liked company and hated to eat alone”.

Tun Suffian also dealt with the learning experience of the Tunku:

“Now that he was back in London he did not find it easy to read boring law books. Tunku was a man who learned better by seeing and listening, which served him well in politics. He never forgot a face or names, or what he had actually seen and heard. There was jubilation among his friends when news came through that he had passed – against all the odds.  There was also sadness, because soon he would go back home to resume work as a civil servant and remaining students would lose a friendly and generous uncle, who was always ready with advice and help and a constant source of fun.”

I am pleased and privileged to be associated with this historic event of honouring the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj – a great leader and statesman.

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