My Call to the Bar

I was called to the High Court of Malaya on 6 August 1999 together with my good friend, Shan.

We were called in Court 2 of the Appellate and Special Powers Division (‘ASP Division’), Kuala Lumpur High Court before Justice Faiza Thamby Chik, who was once my father’s Malay teacher in the Royal Military College at Port Dickson/Sungai Besi.

My father had David Morais (now Dato’) move my call. My father had moved David’s call on 4 January 1986. So this was David repaying the favour.

My father (now Datuk) had served with David’s father in the Malaysian foreign service in Hong Kong when they were both posted there for a few years. David and his sisters would layan me at the park or in the public pools when I was two or three, while our mothers chatted nearby.

Now the thing about my call to the bar was that it was not the most memorable thing about my call to the bar. It was what took place before my call to the bar that was most memorable.

Court 2 of the ASP Division was then housed in Wisma Denmark. It was a time when the Kuala Lumpur branch of the High Court of Malaya, instead of occupying buildings that projected the majesty of the law and its authority, were housed in the upper floors of Wisma Denmark, a commercial building, renovated to accommodate them with cheap room partitions, cheap chairs and desks, and cheap carpeting. It felt as if the courts were just another government department. The corridors near the lifts were two and a half people wide which branched off and narrowed down into a single body-wide corridor the deeper into the building you went.

On the morning of the call, David was walking ahead of us in one of those corridors. Behind him was my father, I was last in line. We were heading to Court 2. Coming down the corridor in the opposite direction that morning was Tuan Haji Sulaiman (now Datuk). David, Tuan Haji Sulaiman, and my father knew each other. None of them were Datuks at the time. Tuan Haji Sulaiman smiled and slowed down to acknowledge us.

“Well, if it isn’t the man with the silver tongue,’ David said in greeting.

“I may be, but I am not the man with the golden voice,’ replied Tuan Haji Sulaiman without hesitation.

And with that, they all fell into conversation. I was introduced to Tuan Haji Sulaiman that morning. Turns out he was at the call too, no doubt moving someone’s call as he was often called upon to do, I later learned.

Even though it was but a moment, it was an exchange that stayed with me. I thought then, Wow, was this how witty practice at the bar was going to be? I could not wait! Such rapier exchange of wit before nine in the morning. Sign me up! The silver tongue was easy to understand; Tuan Haji Sulaiman’s wit was always razor-sharp as his sense of humour was broad. Golden voice referred to David’s deep bassy voice, which is unique and bears the hallmarks of an authoritative and hypnotic voice.

It was a long time before I heard a wittier off-the-cuff exchange on a court premise.

For the call itself, I recall sitting on a long bench with the other pupils waiting for our turn to be called. I saw Shan sitting at least two people away from me. We chatted a bit before the call. When the court buzzer went off, we hurried to our respective seats. I recall standing up when I heard my name and nodding to the judge. David delivered his speech. I don’t remember a thing he said. He finished. My father robed me. I sat down.

But I do recall how call speeches to the bar generally went then.

You didn’t have to prepare a speech for your movers. There are none of the busy preparation as there are at calls to the bar now. You merely met with your mover on the morning of your call. Because the movers knew little about you and more about your master, they would regale the court about how great the master was, and end with something like ‘… and the petitioner will no doubt learn from all that.’ And voila! You get your bit of mention and are called to the Bar.

Quite honestly, I didn’t mind. It was a rite of passage. The details don’t matter. It will fade anyway. The important fact about the ceremony was that it took place. It happened. Because that meant I was properly admitted as an advocate and solicitor of the High Court of Malaya. I have not been faking this lawyer thing for the last two decades or so, and so I feel pretty confident in fighting off a charge of impersonating a lawyer.

After the call speech, the court adjourned. As usual, we scrambled to get our draft orders signed off by the representatives from the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Bar Council, and the Kuala Lumpur or Selangor Bar Committees. I took some pictures with my parents downstairs and that was it. Later that evening my parents went the full monty and held a dinner at the Carcosa to celebrate my call to the Bar.

As we walked back to the car together after the call, my father asked, “Are you starting next week?”

“What else is there to wait for?” quipped my mother rhetorically.

What else indeed.

“Of course, dad. I’ll start next week.”

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