May Day For Justice
by Tun Mohamed Salleh Abas, Former Lord President, Supreme Court of Malaysia, with K Das
NOT STRAIGHT IN THE EYE
If you give me six lines written by the most honest man, I will find something in them to hang him. Cardinal, duc de Richelieu, (1585 - 1642).
One of the first things I discovered in my office on the morning of Friday 27 May, 1988 was that Tan Sri Hamid had cancelled his overseas leave for reasons of some urusan rumahtangga or "domestic matter" and that he was back in his office.
I was not to know for a couple of hours yet that the "domestic matter" and the "something big was happening" which Encik Haidar had gossiped about in my house six days earlier was one and the same thing. I took no notice of the urusan rumahtangga - every household has its own problems anyway - as I set out for my appointment.
At 11.00 a.m. I arrived at the Prime Minister's office.
The meeting was dramatic - and brief.
At 11.20 a.m. I was back in my Chambers. In those 20 minutes my entire life had changed.
To say that I was stunned, shattered or in state of shock, would be to say nothing. The events of those few minutes were perhaps the most astonishing in my life. The meeting with the Prime Minister was, in a word, devastating. He took my peace away in a manner, and for reasons, I could not have ever dreamed possible. I left his presence incredulous.
But old habits die hard. In spite of the shock, I sat down and recalled on paper the events of those crowded minutes I spent with the First Minister of the Government. I dictated quickly, less concerned with grammar and style than the actual details of the event and my feelings at the time:
“When I arrived at the Prime Minister's Department I was met by a few policemen who took me by lift to a waiting room. After waiting for two or three minutes I was shown into the Prime Minister's Office by an officer, whom I did not recognise. There I found YAB Perdana Menteri [Prime Minister] seated at his table with YAB Encik Abdul Ghafar Baba, Timbalan [Deputy] Perdana Menteri, and Tan Sri Sallehuddin Mohammed, Ketua Setiausaha Negara [Chief Secretary to the Government] seated at the same table opposite the Prime Minister. When I entered the room I gave the Prime Minister and the others my salam very loudly and he replied to my salam. (Peace Be Upon You).
"After I had taken my seat the Prime Minister told me that he had an unpleasant duty to perform and on being asked what it was he replied that he had been asked by DYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang Di-Pertuan Agong [His Majesty the King] to tell me that I should step down. I then expressed my surprise in the Islamic way saying, "Glory to God who is free from any partnership." Then I asked for the reasons and in reply he said that he was not prepared to argue with me but finally he said the reason was that because I had written a letter to DYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang Di-Pertuan Agong regarding the state of relationship between the Judiciary and the Executive. Then I told him that I wrote the letter simply because judges at a meeting on 25 March, 1988, informed [me] that they were very concerned about the present situation and asked me to express their views through me.
"YAB Perdana Menteri then said I made speeches indicating that I am biased and I was not qualified to sit on UMNO cases. I told him I had said nothing of that and the speeches I made dealt with the criticisms levelled at the Judiciary. I was not at all biased or partisan in political matters. While all this was going on YAB Encik Ghafar Baba kept his head down while Tan Sri Sallehuddin was writing in a notebook, which he was then holding.
"Then finally I said I will not resign and he told me that if I step down I will be given everything I am entitled to. I told him I was entitled to nothing since I was not yet sixty. Obviously he was surprised when I told him that I was not sixty yet. Finally he said that if I don't step down he would institute a Judicial Tribunal with the view of removing me.
"Then I told him 'I will not resign because if I do I cannot show my face to anyone and I may as well die.'
"Then he said to me that I could see the Agong if I wanted to and he would not stop me from doing so.
"I explained to the Prime Minister that my resignation would be a matter of great concern for the country, and asked him if he could give a letter requiring me to resign so that I could sleep on the matter. He declined, saying that matters of this kind did not have to be written down. I replied that this was a very important event, and that I wanted to have a record of it, but he insisted that it was not possible. [Note: This paragraph was not in my original notes. It was added only when I recalled the point when writing this book.]
"Then I told him that I was not resigning and he could do what he pleased to do with me, including going ahead with the Tribunal.
"As there was nothing else to discuss, I finally said, 'Datuk, I should not waste anybody's time,' and I shook his hand, also Encik Ghafar Baba's and Tan Sri Sallehuddin's. None of these three had ever seen me right in the face and I could detect Encik Ghafar Baba was strangely silent and Tan Sri Sallehuddin only caught me by the side of his eyes but he too appeared to be subdued.
"The Prime Minister himself from the beginning to the end did not even look me right in the eye. All the time he was looking down at his table.
"I left his room and I only saw one policeman outside his room who appeared to be surprised to see me there. When I went downstairs there was nobody to even see me off and no one called for my driver to come and I had to go out to look for him."
I dictated these notes immediately after I returned to my office from the meeting. Then I added my innermost thoughts in a footnote:
"My future is tied up with the fate of this country. I come from an unknown family and I have reached the top of my profession. I have no desire to leave until I have reached the age of 65 like my predecessors (except the Sultan of Perak who had vacated the job because of a call to duty to be the Ruler of Perak). I leave my fate to the judgement of Allah and as it is Friday I wish to quote the Quran which says, "No misfortune will fall on us except what has been decreed by Allah. He is our Protector in whom believers should place their trust." This passage from Quran struck my heart after I had entered the Prime Minister's Office and it remained with me during the course of discussion till the end, and to my exit from his room."
Hardly before I could recover from the impact of the events of the morning, shortly before noon, I received a letter from the Prime Minister (dated that day and signed by him), informing me that His Majesty The Yang Di-Pertuan Agong had suspended me from the post as of the previous day.
Now this was news to me!
The Prime Minister had not told me during the morning meeting that His Majesty has already suspended me from office, or that he had done so a day earlier, on 26 May. He had only said he had been asked by His Majesty to tell me that I should step down.
Now it seemed I had already been suspended from office!
Why didn't he tell me so one hour earlier?
Did Dr. Mahathir have difficulties telling me the truth to my face? I had to ask myself, "Was it the truth?
What was the point of the invitation to his office that morning? Was it merely to tell me to step down? Was my refusal surprising or unexpected? Was it to induce me to resign, by giving me "everything I was entitled to?" Or was the meeting to frighten me into resigning quietly, so that the whole episode, like so many others, could be kept concealed from the public eye?
It was all becoming, in the language of Alice in Wonderland, "curiouser and curiouser."
The Prime Minister's letter (the original in Bahasa Malaysia is at Appendix IV) was brief and blunt to the point of being rude, considering it was addressed to the substantive Lord President of the Supreme Court. Nor did he seem to think he owed me an explanation as to why the suspension was back-dated:
"In connection with our discussion this morning I wish to inform you that His Majesty The Yang Di-Pertuan Agong has ordered that you be suspended from the post of Lord President with effect from 26 May, 1988, pending the matter being referred to a Tribunal and its report in accordance with the Federal Constitution.
"You will be informed of the sitting of the Tribunal shortly."
In the course of that day, (as I was to discover), Tan Sri Hamid, having cancelled his leave, assumed the role of Acting Lord President. Obviously that "something big" he had been anticipating had finally "happened!" He caused to be cancelled the 13 June UMNO hearing and the 15 June Karpal Singh appeal fixed by me.
I established later that the instructions were made just after noon that day, that is, at about the same time, or immediately after I received the official letter of suspension.
According to my reconstruction of events, between 12.10 p.m. and 12.20 p.m., Cik Soo Ai Lin received a call from the Chief Registrar. He directed her not to release the Notices of Hearing to the Solicitors concerned. At that point only Messrs. Rashid & Lee, Solicitors for the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 8th respondents in the UMNO appeal had received the Notice of Hearing. The rest of the Notices were stopped only minutes before they were due to be mailed.
At about 4.40 p.m., Cik Soo was again called by the Chief Registrar and directed by him to recall the Notice of Hearing already with Messrs. Rashid & Lee. The Solicitors returned the documents to the registry on the following morning.
I do not have to stress here that the Chief Registrar was not acting on my instructions when he directed Cik Soo to act as she did. His orders came from elsewhere.
It was clear that the Chief Justice was in direct communication with the Prime Minister's office in this matter, for he had acted on the UMNO matter as if he had prior knowledge of my impending doom. He began to function as Acting Lord President, without informing me, as soon as my suspension was officially communicated to me.
When was the news communicated to him? Why was it communicated to him? And how was it communicated to him? These are questions I cannot answer, but clearly he was very much in the picture to be able to move so swiftly and decisively.
The alacrity and thoroughness with which these actions were carried out, then, left no room for doubt that the UMNO cases were indeed all the reason and rationale for the high drama in which I had been cast as the central figure.
But unaware of these actions by the Chief Justice, or that he was already performing my functions, at 3.00 o'clock on that Friday afternoon, I called for a meeting of judges (in the ante-room of the Supreme Court) to inform them of my suspension. Not many judges were present as this was a Friday afternoon but again Tan Sri Hamid was there, as was Tan Sri Hashim Yeop Sani.
The Chief Justice sat in on this meeting with a straight face; he gave no indication whatsoever that he was fully aware of my misadventure! or that he had already taken drastic action in the matter of vital importance which I had initiated.
'The judges as a group appeared to be stunned by my news, and for a while they could not say anything. After what had transpired behind the scenes, I can imagine the reason for the silence of the Chief Justice.
His behaviour at the meeting was astounding.
One of the Supreme Court judges present suggested that a delegation headed by the Chief Justice should immediately seek an audience with His Majesty The Yang Di-Pertuan Agong with a view to have the suspension order revoked.
The reaction of Tan Sri Hamid to this proposal startled the judges. He said that he could not lead such a delegation because under the Constitution he would be made the Chairman of the Tribunal to inquire into the charge against me!
Obviously the Chief Justice's mind was racing ahead of the rest of us, and was far ahead of events.
To say that he should not lead a delegation because of the likely formation of the Tribunal was more than slightly premature since the purpose of the delegation, as proposed by the Supreme Court Judge, was precisely to have the suspension revoked, and thus to make the formation of any Tribunal irrelevant. In other words, the role Tan Sri Hamid did not want to play that day was the very role which might make the Tribunal itself unnecessary.
Even in the event of the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong not entertaining the delegation's proposals, was it not, to put it mildly, rather hasty to assume that it was definitely he who would head the Tribunal? There are no rules in any statute or the Constitution which say that even the senior of the two Chief Justices (of Malaya and of Borneo) must, necessarily, head the Tribunal. The day was to come when the Chief Justice claimed most vigorously that Article 125(4) "imposed a Constitutional duty" on him to preside. In fact there is no such imposition, for the requirement was not so much mandatory as directory, for the article clearly provided for alternative candidates. The point, at the very least, was debatable. So why was Tan Sri Hamid so swift, not to say anxious, in citing as an excuse a role he may not be called upon to play?
Not knowing what was going on in the corridors of power that day, the judges present could only be confused and mystified rather than suspicious about this odd enthusiasm.
The next suggestion was to hold a conference of judges, to be called by the Chief Justice, to deliberate on this dramatic development. There was no doubt that what had happened would effect the security of tenure of all the judges - and thus their independence as judges. My unceremonious suspension had already thrown the spanner in the works of Constitution. The judges had to study what the ramifications of the move were for them, and for the Constitution itself. This proposal was also turned down, again immediately, by the Chief Justice, again citing the same reason as before - that he was likely to head the Tribunal and therefore could not participate in such a conference. Why not? Even if he was to eventually chair the yet-to-be-constituted Tribunal, why could he not call the conference first? Was he really not alive to the fact that what had happened had serious implications for his own independence as a judge?
How he become obsessed so quickly with the idea that there would definitely be a Tribunal, and that the Tribunal would be headed by him, was strange to say the least. If he had been completely innocent of the events leading to my suspension, he would have been merely surprised and shocked. But he did not behave like a man surprised. Or shocked. He seemed to be very much in control of himself. He seemed to know what lay ahead. He was going to head the Tribunal.
Still, he must have realised that it was obvious to all present that the suggested conference was aimed only partly at having my suspension notice examined, and possibly revoked, and if that was successful, there would be no need for a Judicial Tribunal at all. But the conference would also have to consider very seriously the larger issue of the security of tenure of the office of judges. As a judge, and particularly as Chief Justice, that should have been his main preoccupation. Clearly it was not.
Even if the conference failed to produce the results it aimed for, why was he so anxious so early in the day to head the Tribunal? As a senior member of the Judiciary and as student of the Constitution he ought to have known that proceedings against me had been begun on the wrong foot. Even a superficial reading of the Constitution would have showed that a Tribunal had to be set up before I was suspended. And if he was to be on the Tribunal at all, he should have already been on it!
The Prime Minister’s letter also revealed another basic flaw. I had been suspended from office without being informed of the charges against me. Did this Supreme Court Judge realise the implications of that?
But there it was. Barely three hours after I received the letter of suspension, Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Omar, made it clear - very much as if he already knew - that he would definitely head the yet-to-be-constituted investigative body.
To be fair to him, (however strange that may sound at the end of the day), he offered to call the outstation judges to Kuala Lumpur for the proposed conference, though he himself would not take participate in it.
It sounded interesting. Was this a genuine offer? Did it really indicate that he was not against a conference as such but only that he himself could not be an active party to it?
Whatever the logic or rationale behind the belated offer he made that day, events proved that the Chief Justice (and unknown to all the judges, the de facto Acting Lord President) eventually went against his word. For not only did he not call the outstation judges to Kuala Lumpur, he actually instructed them, very specifically, not to leave their stations when he was away from the city five days later for one whole week, beginning 2 June, on a visit to London. (He had been formally made Acting Lord President on 31 May).
I was to learn subsequently that at least one High Court judge, Datuk Edgar Joseph Jr. (who later headed the second Judicial Tribunal which flowed from my case), left Ipoh in the middle of a Royal function, and rushed back to Penang in order to comply with this strange injunction from the Acting Lord President.
I may observe that I myself had been away from my post for seven weeks, but I did not tell judges to stay at their posts for the duration. I not only had no reason to, but I cannot conceive of a good reason to do so under any circumstances. What possible reason can judges be given a "Don't leave town!" order unless there was knowledge of some impending catastrophe? But frankly, I cannot imagine any catastrophe that can be averted, or cured, by holding down judges all over the country! What kind of independence does a judge have if he is not free to move as he pleases in order to do justice? (More on this later). The only reason for the order however, was only too obvious. The judges must not hold a conference. The Chief Justice's late offer that afternoon in May, therefore, was patently a spurious one.
But the whole meeting of the judges, I must confess, was in the end, very disheartening. I did expect them, especially the senior Justices, to be more imaginative and far more courageous in the face of what was not just my personal crisis but a dangerous crisis in our Judicial system itself.
In retrospect, I suppose I should not have been too surprised. How often in his life does a judge suddenly come face to face with the fact that his much touted "independence" was only a myth? or worse, a farce? For there I stood, the most senior among them, stripped of my position without warning, helpless, looking for .... what? Where was this precious independence of mine now? And where was theirs?
But these are late afterthoughts. At that time I was deeply depressed by the helplessness of the judges.
But worse was to come that day.
One Supreme Court Judge, Tan Sri Hashim Yeop Sani, made a statement which made me feel even more depressed. He remarked that in addition to the two charges I had mentioned, (1) writing letters to the Rulers, and (2) allegedly showing bias in UMNO cases, "there might be other charges, who knows?"
"Other" charges? What was he talking about? What could he possibly mean? Where did this thought suddenly spring from? Did Tan Sri Hashim himself believe that I had committed other "errors"? Or did he know something which I did not? Was he perhaps privy to something that was going on behind the scenes of which I was unaware? Without being paranoid, I had to ask myself, had there already been discussions about my removal, between some judges and members of the Executive? Was this man, too, perhaps, with the Chief Justice, part of some kind of conspiracy to have me removed?
Or was Tan Sri Hashim Yeop Sani only, quite innocently, speculating? If it was speculation, then it was speculation inspired by a powerful prophetic instinct indeed!
I had no answers, but his remark on that painful day, startled me. I could not forget it.
It was all the more hurtful as it came from a man whom I took to be a very close friend, and despite everything that has happened, still cannot help regarding as a friend, for deep friendships can take a terrible battering.
Our association goes back a quarter of a century, and began when he was studying for the Bar in the early sixties, and I was doing my postgraduate studies in International and Constitutional Law at University College, London.
Our friendship grew when he returned and joined the Attorney-General’s Chambers in the mid-sixties and rose to become one of the best legal draftsmen the Chambers ever had after the departure of the British expatriate officers. He as legal draftsman and I as Solicitor-General made a good team. Among the legislation we drew up together were the Emergency Regulations and Ordinances promulgated after the notorious race riots in Kuala Lumpur in May 1969, and those new laws relating to the formation of the Federal Territories.
And it was at my instance that he was elevated to the Bench - a position he had always aspired to. I managed to persuade the then Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak to release him to the Bench. The late Prime Minister was very fond of Tan Sri Hashim and would have liked to keep us both in the Chambers until we retired, even if it meant going so far as to amend the Civil Service Pensions legislation in order to preserve our interest! But we advised him not to take that course of action.
When I myself joined the judiciary in 1979 I found Tan Sri Hashim had changed his lifestyle and become a staunch devotee of Islam. We then began to share our interest in the Faith, and we discussed many problems related to religion. The result was that my trust and faith in him grew stronger. He became a close confidante in whom I entrusted my most private thoughts.
One can appreciate my feelings, therefore, when he made that remark which seemed to cast doubts on my integrity.
Since that Friday afternoon we have not spoken to each other at all, although on the following night, Saturday, 28 May, he and I attended a farewell dinner in honour of Tan Sri Syed Agil Barakbah who was retiring from the Bench. We saw each other without speaking, and after the dinner we shook hands without a word between us, and parted.
Subsequently, when four additional charges were preferred against me (none related to bias in UMNO cases), and later still, when Tan Sri Hashim himself was appointed chairman of the second Tribunal against five other judges who tried to do justice for me, that remark of his assumed a new and sinister look.
I should note here that he did, after a time, in what appeared to be an honourable move, disqualify himself from the Tribunal in favour of another judge, Datuk Edgar Joseph Jr. - the same judge who had rushed quickly back to Penang from Ipoh because of the "Don't leave town" order.
The meeting of the judges on that fateful Friday, 27 May lasted about an hour without reaching any decision or useful conclusion. In that hour the Chief Justice said nothing to reveal what he knew of the affair. I left the room, dejected, but still expecting the judges to carry on with the meeting. After all, the idea of a conference of judges was still there. But to my great surprise, when I rose everybody got up, shook my hands, expressed their sympathy, and left.
Thus at 4.00 p.m. I found myself alone in my own Chambers, and began to draft a letter to the Prime Minister, confirming that I would not resign, signed the letter but told my secretary not to send it out until the next day.
That letter was never dispatched for reasons which I win now relate.
On the next day, Saturday, 28 May, I went to my Chambers, early as usual and re-read my signed letter, made some corrections, had it re-typed and signed it. As my letter was about to be dispatched, at about 9.30. a.m., the Attorney-General came to see me.
The Attorney-General subsequently told the world, in a court of law and outside it, that I had asked for the meeting. That is not true. I must stress, painful though it is, that the Attorney-General did not tell the whole truth of the matter
"The truth," as Oscar Wilde put it, "is rarely pure and never simple." That is one of the misfortunes of mankind.
The truth of that Saturday morning is that a third party was involved, a third party whom I shall not name for the moment, who felt that a meeting with the Attorney-General "could do no harm." I did not heartily welcome the suggestion but I do not believe in closing doors to any potentially useful dialogue. And so I agreed to the meeting. What did I have to lose? I put my letter aside for the moment and talked to Tan Sri Abu Talib.
The Attorney-General has since identified the third party as a Supreme Court Judge (See Appendix XIV), and implied that it was I who had used the judge as an emissary.
The Attorney-General and I talked for about an hour in my Chambers.
I have known this man Abu Talib Othman for a long time. In the middle of the seventies, the then Attorney-General's Chambers lost many experienced officers through retirement, resignation and elevation to the Bench. It became my responsibility as Solicitor-General (the then Attorney-General, Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Yusof was an elected politician) to plan ahead with the view of training and exposing young officers to various kinds of work which the Chambers do, so that the Service would not suffer when the time came for me to retire.
I chose Abu Talib, who was then a comparatively junior officer, being the Legal Advisor and Deputy Public Prosecutor in Penang, to come to Kuala Lumpur to fill the vacuum.
I took him to Geneva in 1977 for the United Nations Conference on the Right of Asylum, the idea being that although he was not an international lawyer he would gain some insight and experience into the world of international politics and diplomacy.
I also took him as my junior in the prosecution of some memorable cases, notably the trial of former Selangor Menteri Besar, Datuk Harun Idris, for corruption and criminal breach of trust, in the mid-seventies. The case was full of high drama and political fireworks, and received wide local and international publicity. Datuk Harun Idris was convicted on all charges, tried and imprisoned. (Subsequently he was granted a full pardon by His Majesty The King, but that is another story.)
All these things were done with the view of building Tan Sri Abu Talib's public stature so that he would be acceptable both to the authorities and to the public, to succeed me when I had to finally leave the Chambers.
We went together through other vicissitudes in court. He did assist me more than once in prosecuting the high and the mighty. I then thought him fearless and fair as a prosecutor. Never did I entertain the thought that one day he would turn against me, and in the way he did.
And now, on the morning of Saturday 28 May, he expressed his sympathy for me in my plight and said he was most unhappy about the whole affair because it was so unjust, particularly so because I was his former superior. (There was no logic in that, but people do say the oddest things under emotional stress, and the Attorney-General did appear emotional that morning).
According to him His Majesty was very angry over the letter which I wrote him and to the Malay Rulers, and in fact His Majesty was so incensed that he had minuted his reaction to the Prime Minister immediately on the face of the same letter, telling the Prime Minister to get rid of me as soon as possible!
I could not help wondering, if that was indeed so (that the anger was immediate and great), why the action against me took two full months from 28 March when the letter was actually sent to His Majesty, to 27 May when I had my meeting with the Prime Minister - to materialise?
But, to jump ahead for a moment, there was - and remains - one wonderful mystery. My letter written on behalf of all the Malaysian judges to His Majesty, has disappeared! The Attorney-General could not produce it and the Judicial Tribunal which sat on the matter never saw it! It seems the prime evidence for initiating my removal has simply vanished!
Was the disappearance of the letter the cause of the great hiatus in the affair which was. allegedly of such grave import? How does a vital document like that vanish into thin air? Does that explain the extraordinary delay? We shall see.
Now the Attorney-General suggested to me that it would be best if I resigned my post quietly. (Echoes of the Prime Minister's Royal message that I step down?) A Judicial Tribunal would be messy, embarrassing.
He also told me that I could not trust or depend on my fellow-judges to support me in my predicament. The judges, he said, were not very reliable. (Who were the "unreliable" judges he had in mind?) Ale hesitation and the general lack of purpose the judges had displayed on the previous afternoon did nothing to encourage me to argue or contradict him immediately. But his open criticism of the judges disturbed me.
Then, to prove the point about these allegedly unreliable judges, and to demonstrate how angry His Majesty actually was with me, he said His Majesty had in fact minuted on the face of the letter I had sent to him, the word "buang", that is, "dismiss" me from office. In Malay the word "buang" means "throw out" or "expel". It is not a very refined expression.
But of course we shall never know exactly what His Majesty wrote because that historic letter has vanished.
According to the Attorney-General the King had also introduced Tan Sri Abdul Hamid to his Hari Raya Puasa guests on 17 May, 1988 - ten full days before I was actually suspended - as the new Lord President!
I must confess that this news shook me. I cannot describe the turmoil it created in my mind. Tan Sri Abu Talib then told me that he was very embarrassed by it all.
It was not just a shocking story, or an embarrassing one; it was, I thought, the most disgusting story I have heard in my life!
If there was any truth in it - and why should the Honourable Attorney-General make up such a tale? - the whole affair of my removal was most thoroughly planned, far in advance, and the plan was now about to be executed.
There was now in me that goblin of doubt. Why was the Attorney-General telling me this unsavoury story at all? What effect was he aiming at?
I did not have much opportunity that morning to think it through. For he went on, and stressed that the whole business of the intended removal of me from office was very wrong. He then suggested that in the circumstances it was best that I quietly retire from the scene, take my pension, and put the whole episode behind me.
He also said he would see the Prime Minister and go over the matter with him, and undertake to make sure I got all my pension benefits, as if I had actually retired at the full age of 65 - I still had more than six years to serve to legitimately deserve all that - and secure me a job in the International Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah. It would mean a fantastic salary in comparison with what looked like the meagre wages of the Lord President, and with opportunities for a lot of travelling.
This was a new and unexpected twist. I did not know what to make of it. I am not a banker, and was the Prime Minister really in a position to "fix" me a job of that kind as simply as all that? And should I participate in such a "fixing?"
Some ten months later the Attorney-General was to reduce that glittering offer to "perhaps get" me "a respectable job" provided I retired "prematurely." (See Appendix XIV). I can only say it was a pathetic attempt to rationalise away something that does not bear thinking about. It was impossible to admit, of course, that inducements - whether it was in the form of a "full pension," with or without an additional "respectable job", or a plum banking job in Jeddah - were offered to me.
The discussion, as I said, lasted about an hour.
It may well be that I was overwhelmed by the enormity of what Tan Sri Abu Talib told me, and I finally found myself agreeing that it might indeed be best if I retired quietly. A confrontation would hurt my family and embarrass my fellow judges. If the episode in the Istana was true, the desire for my removal was very strong, and already decided upon, and only the mode of it was uncertain. Leaving the scene without a fuss would be the "practical" thing to do.
The Attorney-General and I did not delve into any area outside the "practical", the "proper", the "sensible", the "reasonable", and, I suppose the totality of all these things, the "wise".
But the wisdom of a man under the kind of strain I was in on that Saturday morning was the wisdom of a sleepwalker or a man in a trance.
Tan Sri Abu Talib then left my Chambers, according to him, to see the Prime Minister. He left me with the single thought: the King was angry and so I must go.
I may note here that the Attorney-General did not say a word about any other charge against me. I cannot stress this strongly enough or carefully enough here for it is a vital clue to the nature of his bona fides in the days to come.
So, to repeat, on Saturday 28 May, 1988 the Attorney-General mentioned no other charge against me in his arguments that I should retire prematurely and quietly. His one single point was that the King was angry with me.
Yet he was to argue strenuously later that three days earlier, on Wednesday 25 May, 1988, (when I was in Ipoh with Justice George Seah and Justice Hashim Yeop Sani) the Prime Minister had already made his representations to His Majesty with three other major complaints.
And it was to emerge, subsequently, that it was none other than the Attorney-General himself who had actually framed the charges against me!
I shall return to this point again, for the Attorney-General was to claim that he came to see me that morning only "out of respect" for me. It was strange that a man who came to see me, "out of respect for me," did not see fit to tell me that there were a great many other reasons for the Government seeking my departure from office besides the alleged displeasure of the King. Why did he not tell me?
The other "charges", however absurd they proved to be, were at least not characterised by appearing to be something in limbo, something of an "insubstantial pageant" in the mind. They were foolish but only foolish, and not mythical as well.
After the Attorney-General left my Chambers I hardly had time to reflect, for the newly elected Bar Council President, Raja Aziz Addruse (who was to become my personal lawyer shortly) and two other Bar Council members who had been waiting to see me, came in and I could hardly deny them a meeting. They wanted to confirm what were still, for the public, only rumours, about my position.
I told them I was unable as yet to comment. It was awkward because I myself did not know what lay ahead, and what the Prime Minister would have to say to the Attorney-General's proposals. (At that point I still believed implicitly in the still unfolding sequence of events to be just what they appeared to be.) Things had moved too quickly. In the circumstances I did not think it proper to tell the Bar Council officials what had transpired thus far. I asked for time. They would be kept informed, I said. They then left, and I could see, looking rather disappointed. I felt sorry for them.
At about 11.15 a.m. Tan Sri Abu Talib was back in my Chambers. The Prime Minister, according to him, was in a very bad mood (what was the relevance of that?) but nevertheless agreed to accept my offer (was the Attorney-General insinuating that this was a sign of the Prime Minister's great magnanimity?). As for the position in Jeddah, there were details to be worked out. The matter would be taken up.
With that news in hand, I began to prepare the necessary letter to the Prime Minister. When I completed it, I showed it to Tan Sri Abu Talib.
The expression I had first used was retirement in "the public interest" and when I showed it to him he said that it should be changed into retirement in kepentingan negara or retirement in "the national interest", so as to enable him, so he explained, to secure payment of my gratuities and pension - because the whole affair was so unjust and that my services as a judge should at least be compensated. It was all very emotional.
The phrase "public interest" denoted that the person concerned was being retired for some reprehensible conduct in the interest of the public welfare, whereas in the "national interest" indicated that the official concerned was needed for higher duties elsewhere. One might sum up by saying "public" was for public enemies while "national" was for national heroes.
Public officials to become Governors or to hold other special office were usually retired in the "national interest". But here I was, being forced out of office, in the "national interest!" What could that "Politeness" be good for except to justify giving me an "important" job? And yet there were to be sanctimonious assertions that no inducements were offered to me!
Subsequent events were to prove how splendidly ironic that morning's piece of literary work was going to be: I had "misbehaved" badly and therefore removed from office, and so I was to be retired "prematurely" in the "national interest!"
Anyway, following his suggestion I got the letter amended and when that was completed, I showed it to him again, and he was satisfied with it. The letter (the original in Bahasa is in Appendix V) was very brief and to the point:
“Leave and retirement
"To avoid embarrassment all round I have reconsidered the matter and have decided that it is better in the national interest for me to retire immediately after taking all the leave due to me, that is 96 days, and the leave to commence from today."
The letter was then passed on to my Orderly to be delivered to the Prime Minister's office. But Tan Sri Abu Talib said that since it was nearing 1.00 p.m. [on a Saturday, being a half working day] he wanted to make sure that the letter reached the Prime Minister and was not mislaid. (But what was the hurry? Why was he so desperate to get my early retirement decision on that Saturday? But he was very anxious that it be done at once). Therefore he himself went out to arrange for his bodyguard to accompany my Orderly to get the letter safely delivered. Before he left my room he used my telephone to ring up the Prime Minister's office to ensure the delivery of the letter. Then he left my room saying he was in a hurry to go and see the Chief Justice, Tan Sri Hamid, next door.
He did not tell me why he had to see Tan Sri Hamid on that day. But it was obvious that if I stepped down, the Chief Justice would succeed me at once. I imagine the news had to be conveyed to the Chief Justice as soon as possible. But why? We were to discover that speed was an important consideration in more than one respect in this entire affair.
The reply to my letter to the Prime Minister came with startling, not to say suspiciously great, speed. In fact my Orderly delivered it to me at 1.00 p.m. on that eventful Saturday afternoon!
I was greatly relieved, of course, because it promised to lift my suspension from office. Whatever the other implications, I was no longer in that alleged disgrace. I could now retire in peace.
But despite the relief, one fact was inescapable: the speed with which the Prime Minister had responded was impressive. My letter to His Majesty The Yang Di-Pertuan Agong had taken two full months to produce a reaction, but this letter to the Prime Minister had taken what looked like two minutes! It took longer than that, of course, but the Prime Minister's alacrity on the occasion was, to say the least, dazzling.
But how? Had the Prime Minister in fact been waiting, pen poised, in his office, for my letter? Had the reply, perhaps, already been prepared even before my Orderly with my offer of early retirement reached him?
The letter was brief, but unlike yesterday's missive, very far from blunt. He approved my leave. As to my retirement, he wrote, routine action would be taken on it. It was a polite letter. In fact it was a very polite letter. Considering the Attorney-General's message that the Prime Minister was in a bad mood just an hour earlier, it was an extremely polite. letter. The official translation of it read as follows:
"I have no objection for YAA Tun to take all leave due to you prior to your retirement: that is 96 days from today.
"With regard to your retirement from the post of the Lord President, appropriate action will be taken in accordance with the procedure that is being practised.
"I will always pray that Tun remains in good health."
For a moment I thought it was all over. In a matter of about 24 hours I had been reduced - six years and 3 months prematurely - from Lord President of the Supreme Court of Malaysia to a humble pensioner, and sudden obscurity.
But slowly new thoughts entered my mind.
The thought of obscurity did not particularly disturb me. I am not a man given to a life of active intercourse with the glittering elites of society. I play some golf but I enjoy gardening and reading more. Retirement would be no pain at all. Besides, public officials, however important, sooner or later had to step down from office and fade from the mainstream of national life. We all have to anticipate and accept that small ending as one of several rites of passage in our short mortal journeys.
But now there was a more disturbing question. The relief from tension brought forth my own sensibilities out of their trance. Wisdom was not only a matter of the "practical", the "proper", the "sensible", the "reasonable". What about the not so "practical" and at the same time perhaps the most "practical" matter of all, the question of my self respect, my honour?
Did this descent into obscurity - after allegations of "misbehaviour" - also mean ignominy? Will I be remembered in the future only as the first Malaysian judge who was ever forced to retire from office because he misbehaved himself so grossly?
I went home that day weighed down by these unpleasant thoughts.