Former Federal Court Judge Datuk Prasad Abraham is one of my favourite raconteurs. At the drop of a hat, he’d regale you with many a colourful tale. Here is a real-life anecdote from his days at the Bar.
During my days at the Bar, seniority was a sacrosanct quality. Seniors were accorded the highest respect, not only in terms of seating arrangements in Court, but also in the way they were treated by all.
These could lead to some unusual consequences, like this story below.
This anecdote was shared by a fellow practitioner.
This was ages ago. It really happened.
This scene is enacted at a High Court in Kuala Lumpur.
Act One, Scene One; and the players
A couple of young lawyers wait nervously for proceedings to commence.
The plaintiff is the Government of Malaysia.
The second and third defendants, respectively, are represented by said two young lawyers.
They need an adjournment.
They need it real bad.
Let us just say (for the moment) that circumstances do not permit it.
The first defendant, however, is represented by an eminent senior counsel.
Importantly, the case had been adjourned several times, mostly at the instance of said senior counsel.
Judge Volcanic, before whom the matter is fixed for trial, was notorious for his eruptions.
The word ‘adjournment’ did not figure in his vocabulary. He abhors it with a malevolent passion.
Word was, his fits of fury were attributable to haemorrhoids which were wont to act up – or so someone said (the haemorrhoids, I mean).
It was natural therefore that the two shuddering juniors approach the Senior Federal Counsel on feline feet.
Fawning, they inquire whether there was ‘any remote possibility’ the case could be postponed.
They suffer an immediate, loud, and sharp rebuke.
That is followed by a long, smooth barrage of choice words.
Wringing their hands, the juniors stage a frightened and confused retreat.
Scene Two, Enter Senior
Right then eminent senior counsel saunters in: tall, suave, affable, complete with a red pocket square.
He proceeds to exchange pleasantries all around.
He then casually drops word to no one in particular that he is applying for a postponement.
The SFC, by now apoplectic, by obsequious mannerism and oily words intimates that he’d be ‘constrained to oppose’ any such application.
In these exchanges, not a cross word is spoken.
Gazing meditatively into the gloom of the court’s vaulted ceiling, Senior is overheard to mutter,
‘Hmm, we’ll see, won’t we?’
By now the two youngsters are in a sea of panic. They blurt to the Senior that they had but a few days ago filed a sparse defence. One not exceeding five-paragraphs of, well, nothing.
They protest to Senior,
“We were assured you’d be handling everything Sir! The judge is going to kill us. We’re all cooked!”
The Senior waves away theirs fears:
“Oh, it’s perfectly alright.”
“Don’t you worry. Just sit there at the side-lines and cheer me on”.
The petrified youngsters have little choice.
Trooping into Court mournfully, they take their seats, and hide their trembling hands under the table.
When Judge Volcanic ascends the Bench with a scowl, he begins by bellowing,
“What’s all this about an adjournment?
“This matter has been adjourned seven times.
“A mere appeal from the Registrar granting summary judgment!”
The SFC, suddenly determined to drive home his advantage, the SFC registers his objections in a most poisonous tone. Turning baleful eyes upon the SFC, Volcanic says,
“Speak when you are spoken to”.
Said SFC subsides, a balloon deflated.
Eyes bulging, the terrified juniors sink lower into their seats.
Rising calmly to his feet, Senior counsel says,
“My Lord, I hope in the interest of justice your Lordship would indulge me a few minutes to explain why this request for an adjournment is necessary.”
Before Volcanic could resume his composure, Senior presses on to inform Volcanic that,
‘I understand legislation is ‘on the cards’ that would have a bearing on this case.’
Stricken, Volcanic J asks Mahaguru whether ‘the current Act’ is being amended.
‘… possibly a new Act could be introduced which could have a major impact on the case’.
He adds that circumstances compel him to,
‘… speak on behalf of his colleagues for the other defendants’.
The juniors, now peering from under the table, nod vigorously; and in unison.
The once bellicose SFC regards the scene with mouth agape.
This masterly display continues for almost a half-hour.
Mahaguru explains the intricacies of a new Bill.
He explains when and how it is to be tabled at Parliament.
All this coming from a man who has never set a foot, not even a little toe, at the AG’s Chambers, let alone the Parliamentary Draftsman’s chambers.
Not once in all this time is the Bill identified by any specific name.
Volcanic, quenched of his fury, turns to the aghast SFC:
“Surely you are not objecting to the adjournment?”
Driven to despair, the SFC purrs:
“I leave it to the Court.”
The adjournment is granted. To add icing to the cake, the Justice PussPuss asks Mahaguru ‘to the keep the Court informed’ of the fate of ‘the Bill’.
On the way out, Mahaguru is seen scattering a few gems to junior counsel:
“Young men, a little Bluffology does not hurt!”
In this day and age, an incident like this would not have gotten past the first sentence.
Those were the days!
[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]