by Cyrus Das, Past President of the Malaysian Bar (1997 - 1999)
The recipient of the Malaysian Bar Lifetime Achievement Award for 2022 is the late G T S Sidhu, or more commonly known as “Tara”.
I am deeply honoured to be asked to prepare and deliver the citation for G T S Sidhu. It is demonstrably clear that G T S was a towering figure who stood for the values that this award celebrates.
G T S joined the legal profession in 1955 / 1956 in Singapore, and thereafter, when he returned to Malaya in 1961, remained a faithful Member of the Bar / Malaysian Bar for several decades, until his passing in 1993. He served as the President of the Malaysian Bar from 1980 to 1982.
G T S was born on 14 Oct 1924 in Jelebu, Negeri Sembilan as the only son and eldest child of Ganda Singh and Tej Kaur. He completed his schooling at King George V School, Seremban. As a young man, G T S was active in sports and represented the state of Negeri Sembilan in both hockey and football.
He joined the Malayan branch of the Indian National Army and was captured by the British at the end of the Japanese Occupation and interned at Changi Gaol (today Changi Prison) for six months.
G T S did not start out as a lawyer — he began his working life as a clerk at a post office and subsequently embarked on a career in teaching where he taught mathematics at St Paul’s Institution, Seremban.
He met his future wife, Maureen Sergeant, where her father was based in Rasah Camp, Seremban.
In 1953, G T S decided to further his tertiary education in the United Kingdom. He proceeded to read law at Lincoln’s Inn, London, through the financial support of Mahima Singh (later, Dato’), his mentor, benefactor, and family friend.
Legal Practice and Role in Bar Council
In 1955, G T S moved to Singapore after qualifying as a barrister in the United Kingdom. He began his legal career as a magistrate and formed a family with Maureen, whom he married that same year. The couple was blessed with three children: Americk, Paul, and Carolyne.
After having served several years as a magistrate, G T S entered private practice in 1959 and proceeded to join Murphy & Dunbar, a law firm in Singapore. He proved to be an outstanding lawyer and he was promoted to manage a new branch of the firm in Kuala Lumpur, a mere two years later in 1961. He returned to Malaya with his family and settled in Kuala Lumpur permanently. In 1966, G T S entered into a partnership with the late Khoo Eng Chin, establishing their legal practice as Khoo & Sidhu.
In 1968, G T S was elected to the Bar Council, and he took an active role in assisting to organise the first LAWASIA1 conference held outside Australia. At that time, this conference was the largest international conference ever to be organised and held in Malaysia.
He served as Bar Council member from 1968 to 1993, and as Vice-President of the Malaysian Bar from 1978 to 1979, and 1979 to 1980.
LAWASIA Conference, 1968
The Bar Council — with assistance and support given by both the Malayan and Singaporean Bars, judges, and the Malaysian Government — was given the honour of organising the LAWASIA conference, held on 1 to 3 July 1968, in Kuala Lumpur.2
G T S was part of the Conference Working Committee, which had individuals such as P G Lim and Justice Dato’ A Hamid. G T S notably assisted greatly, alongside the Secretary of the Conference Working Committee, K A Menon, in procuring funds for this Conference. He and K A Menon embarked on a fund-raising tour to locations like Ipoh, Taiping, Penang, Seremban, Melaka, and Kuala Lumpur. The fund-raising tour was greatly successful.
LAWASIA Roles and Presidency (1987–1989)
G T S assumed the role of Councillor of Malaysia in 1975. In 1979, he was elected Chair of the Family Law & Family Rights Section, and his capacity as such was linked to the increase of individual members in Malaysia during this period.
In 1983, G T S became Vice President of LAWASIA, and in 1987, its ninth President. During his presidency, he was instrumental in setting up a number of LAWASIA sections; and established an Asian Commission for Justice, serving as its Chair, and giving substance to his commitment to the rule of law and human rights.3
Highlights of G T S’s Presidency of the Malaysian Bar
National Language in Courts
During G T S’s term as President of the Malaysian Bar from 1980 to 1982, the Malaysian Government began to require the use of Bahasa Malaysia in all legal proceedings. This resulted in proposed amendments to the Legal Profession Act 1976 to require those seeking admission as advocates and solicitors of the High Court of Malaya after 1 Jan 1984 to pass a test in Bahasa Malaysia, as well as the mandatory use of Bahasa Malaysia in the Courts.
Under G T S’s helm, the Malaysian Bar engaged with the Courts and proposed that these amendments should not come into force until at least 1 Jan 1982, so that Members of the Bar could have more time to increase their knowledge and proficiency of the national language.
In aiding Members with the transition from the use of English to Bahasa Malaysia, a special committee consisting of representatives from the Malaysian Bar, University of Malaya, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, the Attorney General’s Chambers, and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (National University of Malaysia) was formed.4
Lawyers’ March: Amendments Made to the Societies Act 1966 and the Federal Constitution
In 1981, the Government proposed amendments to the Societies Act 1966 (“Societies Act”). In response to that, the Malaysian Bar called for two Extraordinary General Meetings (“EGMs”) to discuss these amendments due to concerns that they would result in increased control over the activities of societies registered in Malaysia, as well as amendments to the Federal Constitution.
On 7 Apr 1981, more than 200 lawyers sporting black armbands gathered at Parliament House. It was drizzling that day, yet these lawyers were undeterred and pressed ahead with their concerted protest. Their objective was to distribute two memoranda protesting the amendments to the Societies Act and the Federal Constitution, which were to be debated by the Dewan Rakyat the next day.
Led by G T S, approximately 50 lawyers managed to get as far as the entrance of Parliament House, but were subsequently asked to leave. G T S, among a few other lawyers, managed to enter Parliament and distributed the memoranda to the Members of Parliament in the lobby. The then-Home Minister, Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie, refused to accept the memoranda handed over by G T S, and all the lawyers were escorted out of the building. Unflinching in the face of adversity, the lawyers continued to hand out the memoranda to drivers of passing cars until evening.
The following year, on 8 June 1982, 42 lawyers who were involved in the march to Parliament were charged for unlawful assembly. However, this did not dampen the mood of those who were being charged. The atmosphere in the courtroom seemed to even be boisterous and upbeat.
Subsequently, the lawyers were found guilty, admonished, and discharged under section 173A(ii)(a) of the Criminal Procedure Code.5
New Bar Council Secretariat Building
G T S served as the Chairman of the Bar Council Building Sub-Committee from 1986 to 1990. Under his chairmanship, the Sub-Committee entered into an agreement to purchase a Wisma Batek to house the Bar Council Secretariat at No 5, Jalan Tun Perak, Kuala Lumpur. The two-storey building was located very close to the rear of the gate of the Old High Court building.
The new Secretariat building was officiated by G T S, in his capacities as the Sub-Committee’s Chairman, and President of LAWASIA, in a modest ceremony, on 12 Sept 1987.
1988 Judicial Crisis
The 1988 Judicial Crisis was an event that shook the Malaysian legal and judicial landscape, and the nation as a whole. G T S served as part of the Bar Council legal team, and was a member of the Bar Council Standing Committee for the Independence of the Judiciary, following two Extraordinary General Meetings in June and July 1988, in response to widespread demands for action with regard to the judicial crisis.
This Standing Committee also jointly organised a seminar on the independence of the Judiciary, together with the Advocates Association of Sarawak and the Sabah Law Association (today known as Sabah Law Society), and of which G T S was also a member of the organising committee. The two-day seminar held on 4 and 5 Nov 1988, which was aimed at keeping up the momentum on the issue of independence of the Judiciary, was immensely popular, drawing more than 400 participants within such short notice of its organisation.
In 1989, G T S joined his son Americk’s, legal practice — named G T S & Americk Sidhu. He continued to practise despite suffering from ill health and a heart condition. Under the watchful eyes of his son, Dr Paul Sidhu, G T S sought treatment at Brompton Chest Hospital, United Kingdom, and took a well-deserved one-year break before resuming practice again. On 20 Nov 1993, G T S passed away at the age of 69.
The Bar Council in its letter to his widow, Maureen, on his passing in 1993, said:
The benefit of his years of experience at the Bar and in the Council was always generously available even to the newest member of the Bar.”
Today, we are proud to recognise the remarkable work and effort contributed to the Malaysian Bar by G T S Sidhu, and to pay tribute to the man himself — an unassuming stalwart of the Malayan / Malaysian Bar, a doggedly determined person, a meticulous worker, and a staunch defender of human rights who tried his best to preserve and safeguard democracy and the rule of law in Malaysia. We are honoured to present to the family of G T S Sidhu, this lifetime achievement award.
1 During its early years, LAWASIA was an acronym for the Law Association of Asia and the Western Pacific. Today, it is The Law Association for Asia and the Pacific.
2 The inaugural LAWASIA conference was held in Canberra, Australia, on 10 Aug 1966, during which LAWASIA was founded through adoption of its Constitution.
3 Mr GTS Sidhu (MALAYSIA), President | 1987–1989, Our History, LAWASIA website, lawasia.asn.au/history.
4 “GTS Sidhu (1980–1982)”, Torchbearers: The Bar’s Passage of Justice (1947 to 2021), bit.ly/3P3wNAY.
5 “History of the Malaysian Bar: The Early Beginnings of the Bar Council and the Struggles of the Bar”, Malaysian Bar website, bit.ly/3pMKU3j.
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 MBLAA was first conferred posthumously on Raja Aziz Addruse at the Malaysian Bar Annual Dinner and Dance on 10 Mar 2012. Since then, the recipients have been Peter Mooney, Mahadev Shankar, Dr Radhakrishna Ramani (posthumously), Karpal Singh s/o Ram Singh (posthumously), V C George, Param Cumaraswamy, Cecil Rajendra, P G Lim (posthumously), and Ambiga Sreenevasan.
The Award was conferred on G T S Sidhu at an Award Ceremony held on 2 September 2022 at Raja Aziz Addruse Auditorium.