Contributed by Christopher Leong, President, Malaysian Bar
The Malaysian Bar is deeply saddened by the passing of Tan Sri Lim Phaik Gan on 7 May 2013 in Perth, Australia.
Tan Sri PG Lim was born in London on 29 June 1915, and received her early education at Light Street Convent, Penang. Her tertiary and post–graduate education were at Cambridge University.1 She was called to the English Bar in 1948 and the Malayan Bar in 1954. She was a member of the Bar Council for several years and served as Bar Council Secretary from 1955 to 1956. Tan Sri PG Lim comes from a family of illustrious lawyers. Her late father was Lim Cheng Ean, and her brothers are Lim Kean Chye, formerly a senior Member of the Malaysian Bar, and the late Lim Kean Siew.
As a lawyer, Tan Sri PG Lim was an indefatigable advocate for the underprivileged and of trade union rights. She was counsel in the landmark Railwaymen’s Union of Malaya case2 that accorded government employee status to 14,000 railwaymen. She was involved in the famous Privy Council case of Lee Meng,3 which led at the time to the introduction of trial by jury for all cases involving the death penalty.4
Tan Sri PG Lim was the first Malaysian woman lawyer to be appointed as an Ambassador.5 The Washington Post6 carried a report on her appointment that, inter alia, was as follows:
NEW MALAYSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.Malaysia, a male–oriented Moslem nation, is sending a woman to the United Nations as ambassador. She is Phaik Gan Lim, whose battles for human rights have brought wide acclaim and likely a tapped telephone. It is her first diplomatic post.Miss Lim’s fame is as an internationally known trial lawyer, a leading art patron, a concert pianist, a gifted cook, a party worker, and a party–goer.Of her professional roles, she told a reporter, her most satisfying one is noted by the highest woman in Malaysia’s government, Welfare Minister Fatimah Haji Hashim: “fighter for social justice”.“If I find that something is wrong,” she said, “I fight . . . . If there is a need I take the case sometimes when no one else will.”She brought reprieve for a Chinese girl, Lee Meng, sentenced to death for communist activities in a famed case that reached London’s Privy Council. She later won commutations for 11 communist guerrillas, saving them from hanging.
Tan Sri PG Lim had an illustrious career both as a lawyer and a public figure.7 Her achievements were epochal and her commitment to the causes she believed in was inspiring. On her retirement from legal practice and the diplomatic service, she was appointed as Director of the Kuala Lumpur Centre for Arbitration,8 and she was instrumental in establishing it as one of the pioneering centres for commercial arbitration in this region.
We have lost a towering Malaysian who served our country and the public with distinction. Tan Sri PG Lim’s contributions will not be forgotten. She received the Merdeka Award in 2009. In this regard, Dato’ Henry S Barlow presciently noted in the conclusion of his preface to her recently published memoirs:9
And so, as she lays down her pen, she rejoices in the successes which Malaysia has enjoyed since Independence, in which she has played a significant role. At the same time, she views with some apprehension the storm clouds on the horizon, both internationally and locally, and hopes that Malaysia’s current leaders will exercise the outstanding political skills and magnanimity which marked the country’s early Prime Ministers. She has known them all well. The present leaders face unprecedented challenges. She hopes they will be able to face these challenges successfully, and wishes them well.
The Malaysian Bar conveys its deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to Tan Sri PG Lim’s family and loved ones in this time of grief.
9 May 2013
1 Girton College, BA (Cantab) and MA (Cantab).
2 Industrial Arbitration Award No 22 /1966. She was junior counsel to Sir Dingle Foot QC.
3 The London Times, 18 February 1953.
4 A departure from the previous system that involved a trial by assessors in the Federated Malay States.
5 Ambassador, Deputy Permanent Representative of Malaysia to the United Nations (1971–1972) and later Ambassador to Yugoslavia and Austria (1973–1977).
6 14 August 1971.
7 She was also President of Women’s Aid Organisation (1986–2000) and a member of the Board of Trustees of ISIS (1986–2007).
9 Kaleidoscope: The Memoirs of P.G. Lim (Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2012).