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To Hear Courteously........

Tun Suffian’s tolerant view of life, his sense of fair play, his independence of mind, his unfailing patience and, above all, his mode of doing justice by remaining impartial at all times were outlined by him when I asked him to explain how he dispenses justice.

This is what he said: "I try a case and decide an appeal honestly and to the best of my ability. I may be wrong in my decision, but if I am overruled by a higher court I do not get upset. I have done my best and that satisfies me I have done my duty. I avoid listening to gossip outside the courtroom when I am trying a case. I do not think it part of my duty to ferret out the truth by listening to tittle-tattle in the coffeeshops and so on. I observe the rule that a case must be decided only on the evidence in court and on the arguments advanced by counsel. I avoid taking up a point not advanced by counsel.

"It is important that the judiciary should be impartial. But more important is that the public should think that the judiciary is impartial. They accept a court’s decision only if they think that the judge has decided quite impartially. Judges are paid to listen. Some lawyers are tedious to listen to, but the effort must be made, not only in fairness to counsel, but to his client who has a lot at stake. A judge who is impatient and frequently shuts up counsel is in the wrong profession.

"When reading an appeal record often one cannot avoid making some sort of judgment, but I avoid making it final and conclusive until I have heard opposing arguments by counsel. I listen with greater care to counsel with whose arguments I do not agree than to counsel whose arguments carry conviction, for it may well be that the counsel who is not convincing may be right and I wrong.

"Trying a case in the High Court when I sit alone is easier than listening to an appeal in the Federal Court. Sitting alone I can control the speed of the trial to suit my own tempo, whereas when there are three of us, sometimes I am slower than my colleagues and sometimes quicker, depending on the branch of the law that is being discussed. It is then that I have to exercise greater care, not to slow down or hasten the proceedings to suit only my pace. Also, when trying a case I am seeking truth, whereas when doing an appeal we are seeking error on the part of the trial judge - so the approach is quite different.

"Trying a case in the High Court sitting with a jury is easier than I thought. All one has to do is so to control the proceedings in such a way so that the jury can follow the evidence and arguments. At the end of the day all I have to do is to sum up the evidence and direct the jury on the law applicable and then ask them for their verdict. The judge does not then have to write a reasoned judgment.

"The judiciary is independent of control by the Executive, but I don’t allow this to get to my head. If the Government is party in a dispute before me I apply the law strictly and if the law is on the Government’s side I give judgment in its favour, as in the same way I would give judgment against it if it has broken the law. In my relations with members of the executive I am perfectly normal and do not put on airs just to show my independence.

"There is no need to be unpleasant to anybody just because a judge is independent. But of course at the same time I try not to be too close to members of Government, lest the public think that the judiciary is in the pocket of’ the executive.

"In my relations with the Bar, I treat them respectfully. They are also independent, but just as they are obliged in their own interest to treat the Bench with respect so I treat them respectfully. The administration of justice depends on co-operation between the Bench and the Bar. The two must exist side by side, and nothing is lost by friendliness and cordiality. It is unfair to treat a lawyer so harshly in public that he avoids appearing in your court or even abandons private practice altogether.

Junior members of the Bar deserve special consideration. They don’t have enough experience, they are eager to learn to do the best they can for their client . I treat them tenderly and like senior members of the Bar I help them along.

When I was a D.P.P., and the police had done a specially good bit of investigating , judges would publicly commend the police officer cocerned and invite the D.P.P. to bring the commendation to the notice of the C.P.O., though of course they wouldn’t hesitate to criticise bad investigations. Nowadays, one seldom hears of a judge commending good work by the police. I think that this is a pity.

It is demoralising for the police to be only criticised for bad work. An efficient police force is essential for the proper administration of ciminal justice, and praise from the right quarters when praise is deserved is good for their morale.

I try to be absolutely correct in my relations with the public. A judge is not just a person, he is a member of the judiciary and the public expect high standards of behaviour from members of the judiciary. I don’t discuss a case that is coming or is before me. Nor do I discuss a case after it is over and done with. I have given my reasons in public either orally or in writing and my judgment should speak for itself.


"A judge should not, of course, accept presents or hospitality or favours fronm any party even after the case is over. Indeed a judge should not accept favours from anybody whether or not he is involved in a case or not.


"I do not give legal advice to anybody. At parties, friends and acquaintances often seize the chance to get free legal advice, and in the office I receive innumerable letters asking for legal advice. I firmly refuse to oblige.

"A judge’s duty is to pronounce on the law only in actual disputes that .come up before him in open court. He should not get involved in disputes that are brewing. If he speaks out of turn he will be quoted, and that will create doubts in the minds of the public.

"Also any chance advice uttered by a judge to a friend may be used to

intimidate the friend’s adversary.

"I do not try cases or hear appeals involving relatives or friends. I pass them on to another judge. If you try a case or hear an appeal involving a relative or friend and you give judgment in his favour because right is on his side, nobody will believe that you have acted honestly, no matter what you say or think.

"To sum up, I pursue the eternal principle of justice, bearing in mind the timeless advice of Socrates ‘to hear courteously, to consider soberly and to decide impartially.’ That, in short, is the way I deal with judicial problems."