Clients do the darndest things
In the last of his anecdotes, Justice Prasad Abraham, a former Federal Court Judge, recalls his days at the Bar – and his unusual experiences with some clients.
Clients often say, or do, the darndest things.
Justice Prasad says his anecdotes ‘are incomplete without the main protagonists of litigation – the Malaysian people, comprised of different ethnicities’. Their conduct, when properly understood against their respective cultural backgrounds, may be a source of joy, and often, surprise.
‘The next three are fresh in my mind’, says he.
Here are his recollections:
. Litigants advising the Judge
I was waiting for my turn at the High Court in Alor Star, Kedah. A entire ethnic Malay family was waiting for their case to be heard. The hearing was to be conducted in the judge’s room. As you well know, it is called a ‘Hearing in Chambers’.
When the case was called up for hearing, it seemed the entire family waded into the judge’s Chambers. I wondered if the judge had enough seats to accommodate them all.
The ‘hearing’ lasted almost an hour.
The family re-emerged, beaming.
As the family was leaving, I overheard the conversation between the Court Police Constable and an elderly family member. It was most instructive. I have translated it for your benefit.
Constable: What happened? Did you get the order from the Judge?
Old Man: No.
Constable: Why not?
Old Man: I don’t know, son. His Lordship spoke of food, songs, the weather, and soccer.
We all had a decent conversation with him.
You know, he could maintain a conversation with us, and still manage to speak to his wife, simultaneously!
He then confided in me that his wife overspends. I advised the Judge to be more patient.
Constable: And your case?
Old Man: Oh? It has been postponed.
Despite the adjournment – for the umpteenth time, apparently – the parties went away satisfied.
They had ‘had their day with the Judge’.
The expectation of litigants have changed over the decades.
Today complaints would have ensued; and the Managing Judges would have pulled-up the trial Judge.
. Client Querying an English QC
A Chinese family held exactly one half of the shareholding in a timber company. The company’s tentacles spawned businesses in East Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong.
A dispute arose between its shareholders.
As massive assets were being claimed by both sides, parties had Queen’s Counsel admitted to argue the case.
In those days you could do that.
You could engage QCs now, but the obstacles could be insurmountable.
On the eve of the trial, my client insisted that a dinner be arranged ‘to honour our QC’.
I knew where this was going.
I tried to persuade the client it was not necessary:
that the QC was not expecting it;
that he was already more than amply remunerated, etc.
The client persisted.
So, a dinner was held in a prominent Chinese restaurant.
The client sat next to the QC.
The client spent the entire evening nodding and smiling at the QC, who reciprocated in kind.
The most exotic dishes – with equally exotic prices – were served, and consumed with relish.
The QC thoroughly enjoyed himself.
When we settled for coffee, what I feared most happened.
The client casually propped the question:
“Tuan QC, ini case berapa presen kita boleh menang, ah?” [Mr. QC, what are the chances of victory in this case, ah?’].
Visibly taken aback, but in true diplomatic style, the QC waffled an answer. He omitted to give specifics.
The next day, before the trial commenced, I received a note from the QC.
It was a ‘Bill’. ‘Consultation fees last night’, it read – presumably for all that highfalutin’ gibberish during dinner!
I think poetic justice was served – the client had never treated me out to so much as a cup of coffee.
. The dhoti client
A friend, Dennis Xavier related this anecdote.
Dennis represented an ethnic Indian gentleman in a civil dispute. On the day of the trial, when he went to pick him up, Dennis found his client dressed in all the glory of the traditional Indian dhoti. Court attire was trousers and a long-sleeved shirt, with leather shoes.
Client was politely advised of the correct sartorial position.
Counsel asked, could he please change into ‘suitable attire’?
The client regarded him incredulously. Letting loose a fluent string of unmentionable Tamil words, the client retorted,
“If Mahatma Gandhi could address the damned UN General Assembly in a loin cloth, why can’t I come in a dhoti to the bloody Magistrate Court!”
That settled that.
[Datuk Prasad Sandosham Abraham is a retired judge of the Federal Court of Malaysia. He is now an arbitrator. If you wish to comment upon his story, do send an email to him at [email protected] or to our usual contact address]