Sunday, 13 March 2016

Let’s make Malaysia a class act

Brave New World (The Star)
23 December 2015


Despite wanting to think of nothing but indulging in Christmas buffets, I found myself reading an old case the other day (what can I say; it’s my job). It was the Government of Kelantan v the Government of the Federation of Malaya (1963). Basically that was the time when the state government objected to the formation of Malaysia because it said that it was never consulted.
The Kelantan Government lost because the judge found that there was nothing in the Constitution that compelled the Federal Government to consult with the states on the creation of Malaysia.
Anyway, I am not going to give a constitutional law lecture here.
The reason I raise this case is because I found the opening statement by the judge fascinating.
Let me repeat it here (OK, I admit, I am copying long quotes because I am in holiday mood and I’m taking the easy way to fill up column inches).
However, on to Chief Justice James Thomson.
“Before dealing with this application I would express my great appreciation of the assistance I have derived from the arguments of counsel. I would make it clear that if I do not discuss these arguments with the thoroughness which they deserve, it is not due to any discourtesy but due to the necessity of disposing of the application today,” he said.
“I would also express my appreciation of the temperance and restraint with which counsel on both sides have stated their case and, in particular, of the acceptance by each side of the sincerity of the other.
The difference between the parties are clearly very profound. That they should have been prepared to discuss them here with such moderation and sympathy for each other’s point of view augurs well for the future of the country”.
Notice he started off with thanking the lawyers for their assistance and then effectively apologising for not having the time to discuss their arguments in depth. Manners maketh the man, as they say.
Furthermore, as the second paragraph shows, it wasn’t just the judge who behaved in a polite manner.
The lawyers too were commended for their civility towards one another and how they practised restraint despite being on diametrically opposed camps dealing with a passionate subject matter.
This opening statement by the judge and his description of the behaviour of the lawyers just reeks of class.
It is that intangible quality that raises one above the crude and the crass.
To be able to do battle without resorting to lowering oneself to the basest of speech and action.
To be able to act with humility even when one holds the highest judicial office in the land.
My goodness, how we are lacking such class today.
If the powerful are corrupt, can we be surprised if the lowly are too? If the high and mighty behave like thugs, can we be surprised if the hoi polloi do so too?
In present times, one would be hard-pressed to find examples of those with the power and the influence over society acting in a way that is dignified and noble.
On the contrary, we have men and women purporting to be leaders but behaving in a manner that ought to be scorned if conducted by the meanest of the citizenry, let alone those who stalk the corridors of power. In short, we don’t have any class.
I am struck and quite saddened by the Chief Justice’s last sentence, where he points out that such good behaviour as displayed by the lawyers on both sides augured well for the nation. I believe he would be disappointed to see that his prophecy was far from accurate.
Be that as it may, this is no way to end my Christmas article.
I declare that we the people can bring a bit of class to this sad little country of ours.
We can do so by behaving in a manner that does not pander to the crass and the uncouth. We battle them, of course, but with dignity and with honour.
We do not lower ourselves to their level. We can show some class.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everybody!

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