Contributed by Philip Koh Tong Ngee, with photos by Shan Theivanthiran, Members of the Bar
The Malaysian Bar Lifetime Achievement Award 2013 was conferred on Peter Mooney at the Malaysian Bar Annual Dinner and Dance 2013, held at the Taming Sari Grand Ballroom, Royale Chulan Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, on 16 Mar 2013.
Peter Mooney’s service to the legal profession, spanning the decades, has been a dedication to law’s virtues and law’s integrity.
Peter Mooney is no mere practitioner, but a counsel statesman1. His conduct of court cases and advisory work bears the hallmarks of courtesy and grace found solely in those for whom law is a genuine vocation rather than a trade or business.
As a Crown Prosecutor, Peter Mooney performed his duties with both wisdom and discretion, and his razor–like sharpness as a skilled cross–examiner is legendary. His encounter with the formidable Lee Kuan Yew in a Customs prosecution case, recounted in his autobiographical work A Servant of Sarawak: Reminiscences of a Crown Counsel in 1950s Borneo (Monsoon Books, 2011), is a case study in sagacious judgment and the clinical demolition of a prevaricating defendant.
Peter Mooney’s journey from Donegal, Ireland, to Glasgow, Scotland, where he tasted war as a member of the Royal Scots Regiment, the oldest Regiment in the British Army, was one fraught with drama and poignancy.
The narrative of young Peter’s Virgilian studies amidst the clamour of German Luftwaffe bombings over Glasglow, the River Clyde vividly recalls that of a 19th–century French scholar who said to his class at the Collège de France, shortly after the German occupation of Paris:
Gentlemen, as we meet here today we are in a free country, the republic of letters, a country which has no national boundaries, where there is neither Frenchman nor German, which knows no prejudice nor intolerance, where one thing alone is valued, truth in all its manifold aspects. I propose to study with you this year the works of great poet and thinker, Goethe. (See Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way, Norton, 2010).
Peter Mooney’s university education was steeped in the classics, through which he imbibed the Greco–Roman world, alongside the study of Greek, Latin, French, Mathematics and English. After the war he returned to postgraduate studies and completed a Master of Arts in History. From there, his appetite whetted in readings of Constitutional history, he proceeded to the study of law.
Historical studies’ loss was the legal world’s inestimable gain. Securing Firsts in Jurisprudence, Evidence and Procedure, Forensic Medicine and Scots Law, and gaining admission to the Faculty of Advocates, his path to the legal profession was set. As an erudite repository of historical and literary knowledge, Peter Mooney has long enriched his companions with the depth and breadth of his allusions and analysis, making the dry bones of law a living treasure.
His decision to leave the Bar in Edinburgh and move to Sarawak (then a British colony) had not been easy, but he readily adapted to its terrain and, more significantly, to her people. Here he lived out his calling, bestowing his manifold gifts upon the community that he chose to serve, and of which he later wrote: “I had become familiar and at home in Sarawak. I had no home elsewhere.” One of his outstanding achievements was his ardent endeavour to give recognition to indigenous native rights long before the incalcitrance of timber loggers who would resist such rights under the passage of land legislation.
His contribution to the land of Sarawak and his benevolent disposition towards its indigenous people was a rare occurrence in those colonial times. As famously depicted in EM Forster’s Passage to India and George Orwell’s Burmese Days, members of the colonial establishment haughtily disdained involvement with the lives and culture of the natives, and were inclined to ostracise those who did so. Peter Mooney was an exception to such attitudes. Forgoing opportunism and careerism, he invariably placed integrity above fear or favour.
Peter Mooney’s next home would be Malaysia, where he served first as an elected Bar Council member and later as Vice–President. He also served indefatigably as Chairperson of the Legal Profession Committee, and chaired the Complaints Committee. He represents the best tradition of the Malaysian Bar and reflects the highest standards and values of the common law world.
His contribution to the public good is further evidenced by the many duties he performed on hospital boards, and in the inauguration of the hospice movement. It would be remiss not to also mention two of Peter Mooney’s most cherished awards: the Dato’ DiRaja award from HRH Sultan of Selangor, and the honour of Knight of the Order of St Gregory the Great, by Pope John Paul II.
When Peter Mooney served in the British Army in Burma at the battle for Kohima Pass under General Slim — a battle in which five thousand British soldiers perished and Japanese casualties numbered seven thousand — a monument was erected, upon which was inscribed:
When you go homeTell them of us and sayThey gave their tomorrowThat you might have your today~ Simonides, on the Thermopylae War of Spartan resistance to the Persian Invasion in 480 BC2
The former Chief Justice of Singapore and pupil of Peter Mooney, The Honourable Justice Chan Sek Keong, paraphrased Simonides’s eulogy, saying of Peter, “He fought that we might have our today.”
Simonides wrote, on another occasion, words that I will adopt for this evening3:
Great are the fallen of Thermopylae,Nobly they ended, high their destination —Beneath an altar laid, no one a tomb,where none with pity comes or lamentation,But praise and memory —A splendour of oblationNo rust shall blot nor wreckful Time consume […]Here too is one worth of all attesting —Who left behind a gem–like heritageOf courage and renown,A name that shall go down from age to age.~ Simonides on the Battle of Platea 479 BC; Trans. TF Highham)
Dato’ Dr Sir Peter Mooney, you are not among the fallen, but are one worth attesting, and the gem–like heritage of your noble service to the Bar — so that we, the Malaysian Bar, might have our today and our tomorrows — is your gift to the Bar. The modest laurel conferred upon you this evening, the Malaysian Bar’s Lifetime Achievement Award, is a pale token of your love for the people of this land and for a profession which you grace with the most honourable of endeavours.
Like the epic journey of Odysseus to Ithaca, yours brought you to our shores, where we trust you have found your home.
At the book launch of A Servant of Sarawak you proclaimed: “J’y suis, j’y reste” (Here I am, here I stay).
We are so grateful that you did.
Malaysian Bar Lifetime Achievement Award
Bar Council instituted the Malaysian Bar Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 as a form of recognition and appreciation of 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 and Dance on 10 March 2012.
1 Anthony Kronman, The Lost Lawyer: Failing Ideals of the Legal Profession (1993), who argued for a lawyerly conception of virtue embodied in the lawyer–statesman “who displays an uncommon prudence or practical wisdom, a special talent for discovering where the public good lies and for fashioning those arrangements needed to secure it”, and “the capacity of a lawyer’s life to offer fulfillment to the person who takes it up”.
2 For an historical account of this battle see Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper, Forgotten Armies (Penguin, 2004), and Donovan Webster, The Burma Road: The Epic Story of the China–Burma–India Theater in World War II (Perennial, 2003).
3 Cited in Paul Cartledge, Thermopylae: The Battle that Changed the World (Overlook, 2006).