Cecil Rajendra: Oppose Unjust Laws with Every Fibre of Your Being

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Multi-award-winning poet and lawyer Cecil Rajendra says lawyers must oppose inherently unjust laws with “every fibre of our being and campaigning for their repeal”.

In a hard-hitting lecture at the Penang Club yesterday, Cecil cited the Internal Security Act, Official Secrets Act, Sedition Act and Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) as unjust laws.

“But which only a fraction of our profession dare speaks out against,” he said as a special speaker at the 10th James Richardson Logan Memorial lecture themed ‘Law or Justice’.

Cecil is the Malaysian Bar Lifetime Achievement Award 2019 recipient and was also awarded the International Bar Associations (IBA) IBA Pro Bono Award for his legal aid and human rights work, locally and internationally. He is the only Malaysian lawyer to hold both achievements.

He is also the first recipient of the Malaysian Lifetime Humanitarian Award in 2004 and received the individual human rights award from Suhakam in 2012 for campaigning for the recognition of human rights in Malaysia and the abolition of detention without trial.

Thus far, the Pakatan Harapan government has failed to repeal these “unjust” laws although promises to the effect were made in their GE14 election manifesto.

Sosma was recently used to detain 12 individuals, including two DAP assemblypersons, for alleged involvement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam organisation which was defunct since 2009.

During his speech, Cecil, 78, took his peers to task by citing words of renowned English lawyer and judge, Lord Denning said: “Most lawyers are conservative, that’s what wrong with them. They seem to have a vested interest in not changing the law”.

On judges, Lord Denning has this to say: “They think the great aim is certainty, the letter of the law. My aim is justice. It’s only if it has a moral justice that the law can command respect. If I don’t feel I’ve done justice in a case, I can’t sleep at nights”.

“Our lawyers and judges have no such problem”.

“How come we are still known as the honourable profession? Especially when we have been the most despised and reviled of professions,” asked Cecil, who was the co-founder of Penang’s first legal aid clinic – the Penang Legal Advisory Center – in the 1980s, which aided the poor with pro-bono legal advice.

During his one-hour lecture, Cecil took his audience down memory lane where he recounted the pro-bono cases he and his peers took up and the bad judges and defence lawyers of the rich and elite segment of society who came their way.

He claimed that the bullying of laypeople and sometimes lawyers by high-handed magistrates and judges continue to this day.

“The sad thing is, very few lawyers have the testicular fortitude to stand up to them.

“Instead we apologise for their bad behaviour, cringe, scrape out and suck up,” said Cecil.

“I have asked many colleagues how they could put up with this sort of nonsense that goes on in court every day with barely a whimper.

“The answer is still the same. It is alright for you, Cecil, you have your writing, but we have to cari makan (make a living).

“In the name of cari makan, a million misdeeds, wrong and injustices were allowed to fester,” he said.

Susan Loone/Malaysiakini

“So how come we still pride ourselves on being members of the honourable profession? A profession that countenances bad judges, bad lawyers and bad laws?”.

Cecil recounted memorable incidents in detail including the Kampung Buah Pala eviction case in Penang in 2009, where the late judge Augustine Paul would always be remembered for dashing the hopes of some 300 residents who were facing eviction and the demolition of their ancestral village.

Paul, in a three-member panel unanimously rejected the villagers’ application for leave to appeal against a Court of Appeal decision that had overturned a landmark High Court verdict in their favour.

Cecil also recalled taking up a case involving fishermen in Permatang Damar Laut, where the presiding judge was known to have allegedly played golf with the property developer. – Malaysiakini