It was truly shocking and heartbreaking to hear of Mr Karpal Singh’s sudden death this morning, a man whom I still refer to as “Boss” even though I left his law firm almost 15 years ago. It was only last night that I regaled my younger colleagues with anecdotes of my time working with him and it was only last month that I saw him in court after he was convicted for sedition.
After finishing my legal studies, full of idealism, ready to take on the world, ready to enter the legal profession, and despite coming from a small town with zero contacts, I knew there was only one lawyer whom I wanted to work with. I was soon accepted as pupil in chambers and thereafter retained as lawyer.
Needless to say, I received my legal grounding at Mr Karpal’s law firm where he taught us the fundamentals of being a good lawyer – be fair and principled, don’t corrupt the profession, don’t mislead the court, conduct yourself in a dignified manner (because lawyers are gossipers), do your best for the client, research and be well prepared, challenge the law with new and innovative arguments – all of which he had been exemplary.
Despite his towering and larger than life reputation and achievement, he was always respectful, unexpectedly funny, and had time, often late evening, to chat and discuss cases or legal issues with his junior lawyers. He always treated his pupils and junior lawyers as lawyers – never allowing them to carry his brief case or robe. As a young lawyer, I thought it was quite funny that he would once in a while, ask for my views on certain legal issues when we meet in the library – yeah, right Karpal Singh asking for my opinion!
In my four years working in his law firm, I am happy to say that despite handling full trials for both civil and criminal matters, I have only gotten in trouble with him twice – once for forgetting to attend court (due to too many cases) and the other for bad photocopying (the machine was bad and it was late at night) the bundle of legal authorities due for the Court of Appeal the next morning, for Lim Guan Eng’s publishing “false news” appeal, no less. For the record, the other lawyers Gobind and Manoharan were also equally culpable in the curious case of bad photocopying.
As Mr Karpal was mainly handling appeal matters and I handling lower court matters, we rarely had opportunities to work together in court. However, occasionally in order to assuage a client that he or she was in good hands (i.e. mine), Mr Karpal would drop by in court and the client would be overjoyed. That is who he is – a legendary and fearless lawyer who lit up the room and imparts confidence by his mere presence.
Mr Karpal, you are a true Malaysian, a legendary politician and lawyer, there will never be another.
Eric Paulsen is Executive Director of Lawyers for Liberty. Follow us on Twitter @lawyers4liberty