Raja Aziz Addruse – At the forefront of advocacy

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Param Cumaraswamy pays tribute to the late Raja Aziz Addruse, a lawyer of high integrity who shone as a beacon in the Malaysian bar at a time when the independence of the judiciary was threatened.

Raja Aziz Addruse, President of the Malaysian Bar Council, together with Dato' Param and Tunku Sofiah Jewa at Tunku's residence to escort him to declare open the Fourth Malaysian Law Conference on 19 October 1977.

Yang Mulia Raja Abdul Aziz Addruse, affectionately known to his colleagues as Ungku, passed away on 12 July 2011 after a short illness at his home and was laid to rest at the Bukit Kiara cemetery the following day.

Born in Chemor, Perak on 10 February 1936, he received his secondary school education at Anderson School in Ipoh. He then read law at the University of Bristol and, after graduation, was called to the English Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1960. One of his contemporaries in Bristol was Tan Sri L C Vohrah.

On his return to Malaysia in 1960, he served in the Attorney General’s Chambers for a short period as a Public Prosecutor and later as deputy parliamentary draftsman. In January 1966, he was admitted to the Malaysian Bar and entered into private practice together with Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen Ismail. The firm then was known as Rithauddeen & Aziz. Among those who practised in that firm were Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah (who later became the Chief Justice of Malaysia and was conferred a Tunship), Yaacob Merican, Zainur Zakaria, Wan Ariff Hamzah, Johari Razak and Zaid Ibrahim.

Commanded respect from the judges

His eminence in advocacy before the Courts and the respect he commanded from the Judges earned him a reputation, and soon he was in demand in the profession as lead counsel. That led him to confine his practice to counsel work before the civil and criminal courts. His knowledge of the law and commitment to fairness in any given cause drew him to accept appointments to arbitrate on civil disputes.

When Lord President Tun Mohd Suffian first introduced the appointment of temporary judicial commissioners to clear then backlog of cases in the High Court, Raja Aziz was one of the few appointed. But he refused any permanent judicial appointment. He felt that only through practice of the law could he contribute effectively to the advancement of the cause of justice through respect for the rule of law and human rights. His commitment to these causes was remarkable.

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He was also throughout involved in the advancement of an independent legal profession in Malaysia. He served as President of the Malaysian Bar in 1976-1978; again in 1988-1989 and once again in 1992-1993. That was unprecedented. Returned thrice by popular call from within the profession to lead the profession.

He sought, pursued and set high standards for lawyers in the country. In the early 1970s, he was involved in the drafting of the present Legal Profession Act (LPA). His personality is reflected in the first objective of the Malaysian Bar as provided in Section 42 of LPA “to uphold the cause of justice without regard to its own interest or that of its members, uninfluenced by fear or favour”.

Raja Aziz Addruse and Dato' Param taking leave of Tunku, after briefing him on the judicial crisis at the Gleneagles Hospital in Penang on 14 June 1988.

Professional, fair-minded and ethical

He was so professional, fair minded and ethical that having him as the opposing counsel was always a pleasure in litigation before the courts. He was seen and heard in the forefront with advocacy groups outside courts and as lead counsel in the courts over human rights violations. He gave voice to the voiceless, taking on their causes on pro-bono briefs before the courts to assist those who could not afford access to the courts.

In 1977 I had the privilege of serving as the Bar Council Secretary when he was the President. In his absence overseas the authorities began investigation on me for an offence of sedition when I published an open appeal to the Prime Minister, then Tun Hussein Onn, to review the Essential Security Cases Regulations when a 14-year-old school boy was sentenced to death for possession of a revolver. Raja Aziz on his return was flabbergasted on learning that his Council Secretary was subjected to such an investigation. He immediately wrote two stern letters to the Prime Minister and the Attorney General, then Kadir Yusof, not to harass and intimidate the Bar Secretary. No prosecution was preferred against me.

However, when in 1985 I was charged for sedition in connection with the open appeal to the Pardons Board over the commutation of death sentence of Sim Kie Chon, Raja Aziz was my lead defence counsel. After a six-day trial, in a landmark judgment on freedom of expression, I was acquitted by Justice N H Chan. In the course of trial, the judge commended Raja Aziz’s presentation of the defence.

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In 1988, when Tun Salleh Abbas, then Lord President, was suspended and subjected to tribunal for misconduct, Raja Aziz was sought to lead the defence. He was then President of the Bar. He again maintained the high ethics of the Bar. As counsel he did not want to be seen leading the Bar’s public protest over that crisis which was then developing. He left the leadership of the protest to the Vice President.

The eventual dismissal of Tun Salleh Abbas and three other independent judges of the Supreme Court left Raja Aziz disenchanted with the independence of the Malaysian judiciary. Reading the slants and half truths and distortions in the book Judicial Misconduct written by a New Zealand Queens Counsel, Peter Williams, in defence of the conduct by all those involved in the assault of the independent judges, he could not resist a response. He wrote a book ‘Conduct Unbecoming’ giving a honest ringside account of what happened and demolished Peter Williams account into shreds.

Tunku with third Prime Minister Tun Hussein Onn at the Human Rights Seminar organised by the Malaysian Bar to celebrate 40th Aniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10th December 1988. Dato' Param Cumaraswamy appears behind Tun Hussein whilst HAKAM President, Raja Aziz Addruse stands immediately behind Tunku. Facing Raja Aziz is Ms. Catherine Eu, the Executive Director of the Bar Council.

Refused to appear before Hamid Omar

During Tun Hamid Omar’s tenure as Lord President, Raja Aziz refused to appear before him in any appeals as a mark of protest and his lack of confidence in the system because of Hamid’s conduct in those events. He felt that the justice system had not recovered from those events. He laboured this feeling as recent as last year when acting for the Sultan of Kelantan before the Federal Court. That was his last case. He was receiving treatment in Singapore then. He was determined to argue the case of His Royal Highness personally before that Court. His assisting counsel presented a medical certificate and sought a postponement for a short period of time to enable him to appear personally. The court refused. That was a sore disappointment to him.

Earlier in 1998, when he was lead counsel for Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim in the alleged corruption trial before Justice Augustine Paul, on learning that the judge had capitulated to executive pressure in the trial process, Raja Aziz did not mince his words when he said in a public statement that ‘This trial is no longer the trial of Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim alone. The Malaysian judiciary is on trial.’

In addition to all his contributions to advancement of the Rule of Law through the judicial process and advocacy of the legal profession, Raja Aziz found time to join like-minded concerned personalities to set up and lead non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

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In 1989, together with two Prime Ministers, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Hussein Onn, and me, Raja Aziz applied for registration of The National Human Rights Association (now known as Hakam) under the Societies Act. It was the first human rights NGO to be registered in Malaysia. Raja Aziz was its first chairman.

In 1990 concerned that the general election would not be free and fair, he was one of the six members led by Tun Mohd Suffian to form Election Watch, which earned the wrath of Dr. Mahathir Mohammed then Prime Minister.

Together with Tunku Abdul Aziz, Anwar Fazal and me, Raja Aziz also assisted in setting up and having Transparency International Malaysia registered as a society.

His relentless and committed pursuit of justice through the rule of law was noted by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the global advocate of the rule of law based in Geneva. Its Commissioners are eminent jurists identified and elected from across the regions. Raja Aziz was elected as a Commissioner in 2006. The earlier two Commissioners from Malaysia were Tun Mohd Suffian and me. After his appointment, he often lamented to me that he just did not have sufficient time to contribute more to the ICJ. The ICJ, however, valued his contributions and extended deep condolences to his family.

His integrity throughout was beyond question. On 11 April 2010 he was awarded the Lifetime Professional Integrity Award by the Malaysian Professional Centre together with Rotary International District 3300 and Integrity International Malaysia at a ceremony at the Royal Selangor Club.

Raja Aziz did not only pursue the high values of the legal profession but he indeed personified these values. His passing marks the passing of an era – a high water mark in the struggle for a just rule of law, judicial and lawyer independence and human rights in Malaysia. His passing is not just a loss to his loving family but to the profession and the nation.

Raja Aziz leaves behind his wife Catherine, two daughters Azriene and Adeline, sons-in-law Jonathan and Craig, and a grandson, Cassidy.

Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy was Chair of the Malaysian Bar Council from 1986 to 1988 and United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers by the UN Commission on Human Rights from 1994 to 2003.

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3 COMMENTS

  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.

  2. For years I have dreaded the inevitable passing of the towering Malaysian that all of us at the Bar know as Ungku. It was my privilege to know him well as my President and colleague at the Bar Council during my tenure in 1976-1985. He was always gentle, soft-spoken but who did not mince words to express a strong view. He did not pussy foot or lose his clear mental and moral focus. When I and my fellow campaigners at the Bar called on him not too long ago to lend his great stature to our fight to retain the right of judicial review for fellow members of the Bar in disciplinary proceedings, he did not hesitate. All he asked of us was that we were committed to our cause. The rest is history. Ungku moved the motion at the EGM that led to the Bar rejecting the infamous removal of judicial review. That is just one of the many fond memories I have of Ungku. On 12 July 2011, I felt I have lost a father and a brother. From Ms Chew Swee Yoke.

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