Contributed by Haji Sulaiman Abdullah, Member of the Bar
The Malaysian Bar Council is wedded to the concept of democracy. Its discussions are learned, multi–faceted and, oftentimes, heated.
Yet this body of lawyers to whom disputation and debate are the very stuff of life came to a unanimous decision a few weeks ago. That decision was that the Malaysian Bar would award this year’s Malaysian Bar Lifetime Achievement Award to a lawyer who died 45 years ago in 1970: the late R Ramani.
Once the matter had been discussed, it was abundantly clear that Ramani clearly stood for the achievements and values that this Lifetime Achievement Award commemorates and celebrates.
As a man, a lawyer, a diplomat and a Malaysian, Ramani exemplified what every Malaysian lawyer seeks to achieve, at least in some small measure, in his life and practice.
The man himself was simple in his habits, austere in his life and superb as a lawyer. He was born in Madras on 21 October 1901. After obtaining the degree of Master of Arts at Madras University, he was appointed a lecturer in English at that University. He also read for the degree of Bachelor of Law, which he obtained in 1927.
In 1928, he was called to the English Bar as an Utter Barrister of the Middle Temple.
Boldly, in 1929 he left Madras and came to Malaya, and worked with the firm of Shook Lin and Co. By 1930, by dint of hard work, sustained application and outstanding advocacy, Ramani gloried in being a member of the firm of Shook Lin and Ramani.
His brilliance and industry quickly became apparent to the profession and the premier law firm of the day, Braddell Brothers, persuaded him to join them, and in time he became a partner there.
Ramani as a child had been quick–witted and spoke most convincingly. His family were convinced that they had a budding legal luminary in their hands and did not hesitate to tell the young boy about their predictions. Thus encouraged, Ramani, throughout his life, lived up to and exceeded the expectations of his relatives.
He worked extremely hard as a lawyer. He read widely in the law as well as history and the classics. But he also had another side to his reading. According to a lawyer who worked closely with him, Zain Azahari bin Zainal Abidin, Ramani also indulged in detective novels, particularly those of Peter Cheyney, which had a fair element of thud and blunder about them.
Zain recollects that Ramani was such a prodigious worker that he had difficulty sleeping. Ramani, a vegetarian, teetotaller and non–smoker, was reputed to eat one sparse meal a day and sleep not at all. He was said to be a devout coffee drinker. At the weekend, his doctor would give him a jab and he would sleep over the whole weekend. But once at work, he was inexhaustible. Zain says they would work together at the office till 4:30 every morning when Ramani would say, “Right Zain, you can go back. See you at 8:30 am.”
We are fortunate to have the words of Chief Justice H T Ong to encapsulate the image of Ramani in court. Speaking at the Reference for Ramani on 6 October 1970, His Lordship said that he had been asked by the Lord President of the Federal Court, Tun Azmi bin Haji Mohamed, to be the spokesman for the Judiciary as he was the Judge who had known Ramani the longest and best.
The Chief Justice said, inter alia:
It was eight and thirty years ago that I first saw Dr Ramani in Ipoh and was impressed hearing him in the High Court there. Of course then I was then a mere novice, knowing but little law and less of the subtleties of practice and procedure. Such impressions can hardly be said to count. Later however, in the pre–war and especially the post–war years we found ourselves in opposite camps. I was then better able to appreciate the talents of this formidable opponent, where each day in court was clouded by an ineradicable feeling of inward anxiety which refused to be stilled until the case was over. When I attained to the Bench in 1958, Dr Ramani had already for several years been a recognised leader of the Bar, among the select few with Sir Roland Braddell (the most distinguished of them all) in Kuala Lumpur and the Das Brothers in Ipoh. To hear him expound the law was for me a real pleasure — undiluted by any form of anxiety — which then fell to be entertained in other breasts but mine. In the thrust and parry of debate, it was fascinating to watch and wait for his reply to any uncalled–for remark which savoured of a personal nature. It was vitriolic and devastating since it was invited. Yet withal, he was the soul of kindness and generosity, as many a junior practitioner can testify, who had sought his advice and assistance. No one is known to have knocked at his door in vain.
The Chief Justice then added a splendid tribute:
I have no doubt that, had it been possible for him to be appointed Chief Justice after Merdeka, he would have discharged the duties of that office with rare distinction.
Ramani also gave back to his beloved profession and to the public.
When the Bar Council was formed in 1947 under the Advocates and Solicitors Ordinance, Ramani became a member of the Bar Council. He was Bar Council Secretary from 1947 to 1952 and then served as Bar Council Chairman from 1953 to 1960 and then, again, from 1961 to 1963.
In the wider public domain, he was a member of the Malayan Union Advisory Council. He was then nominated as a member of the Federal Legislative Council till 1954.
Further, he was a member of the Kuala Lumpur Town Board. He was also Chairman of the Malayan Red Cross Society; Selangor Gandhi Memorial Trust; and Malayan Branch of the International Commission of Jurists from 1959 to 1963.
As Chairman of the Bar, Ramani spoke at many functions. At the elevation of Mr Justice M Suffian, Ramani spoke from the heart when he told M Suffian (later Tun) that the British had left two invaluable legacies, ie the Common Law and the English Language.
Ramani was a master of both those legacies and he used them well. As was said by the then–Attorney General, Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Yusuf, at Ramani’s Reference: “We meet this morning to pay tribute to the memory of a great man and an outstanding lawyer. With the passing away of Dr R Ramani, Malaysia has lost one of her most brilliant lawyers.”
It was in recognition of his brilliance as a lawyer and his outstanding command of English that in 1963, the Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, appointed him to the post of Ambassador and Permanent Head of the Malaysian Delegation at the United Nations (“UN”). In May 1965, Ramani was elected President of the UN Security Council. He was outstanding at the job and years later, Mr Adlai Stevenson of the US still insisted on addressing him as “Mr President” and said that he would always be “Mr President” for him.
Ramani presided over a large number of debates as the US and the USSR were locked in dispute over the situation in the Dominican Republic. He was adroit in his chairmanship and brought much glory to Malaysia in the process.
Perhaps his finest performances were in rebutting the Filipino and Indonesian challenges to the formation of Malaysia. In the Bangkok talks to look into the Philippine claim to Sabah, Ramani, as leader of the Malaysian delegation, effectively demolished the claim by Manila. As a columnist in the Manila Times wrote, Ramani was “a one–man demolition squad”.
Once again, Ramani proved that when you are in trouble, you get a sound lawyer who speaks good English and knows his law.
In June 1969, the University of Malaya conferred on him an Honorary Doctorate in Letters for his services to the Law, Diplomacy, the Nation and the University.
In March 1970, when the former Lord President, Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah, vacated his seat in the Senate to become Governor of Penang, Dr Ramani was nominated by His Majesty the Yang di–Pertuan Agong to become a Senator.
Ramani felt that Malaysia had done so much for him that he owed it to this country to serve her in whatever way he could. Though he had suffered a heart attack and had sought treatment in the US, he never spared himself in the service of Malaysia.
In September 1970, though he had returned to Malaysia, he went back to New York to attend the UN Debates in case the Sabah Claim was brought up again.
On 1 October 1970 while in New York in the service of Malaysia, he suffered a fatal heart attack.
R Ramani — lawyer, diplomat, Malaysian — is truly more than worthy of the Malaysian Bar Lifetime Achievement Award. He has set a high bar for the rest of us to seek to attain.
Malaysian Bar Lifetime Achievement Award
The Bar Council instituted the Malaysian Bar Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 as a form of recognition of and appreciation for outstanding Members of the Malaysian Bar who have demonstrated particular dedication and exemplary lifetime service, and made invaluable and outstanding contributions, to the Bar.
The Award was first conferred (posthumously) on
Raja Aziz Addruse, at the Malaysian Bar’s Annual Dinner & Dance on 10 Mar 2012. The second and third recipients were
, who received the Award at the Bar’s Annual Dinner & Dance on 16 Mar 2013 and 15 Mar 2014, respectively.
Dr Radhakrishna Ramani is the fourth recipient of the Award, which was presented at the Bar’s Annual Dinner & Dance on 14 Mar 2015