Mohamed Suffian Mohamed Hashim

Mohamed Suffian Mohamed Hashim, or Tun Mohamed Suffian, was a distinguished Lord President of the Malaysian judiciary. Suffîan, or Suff as he was universally known, was a man who combined a high degree of administrative and legal ability with total integrity, great charm and infectious wit. He was born the second of fourteen children on 12 November 1917, in the village of Kota Lama on the Perak River near Kuala Kangsar. His father was a kadi of enlightened views in the nearby village of Lenggong.

In 1936, Suffian left for England, to study law at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, armed with a letter of introduction to the retired Hubert Berkeley, legendary District Officer of Upper Perak, well known to his father. In 1939, he graduated with a second-class degree. This was followed by an LL.B course, and exams at the Middle Temple. He was called to the Bar in 1941.

In 1961, Suffian was appointed High Court Judge, Kuala Lumpur, and was transferred to the High Court in Alor Star the following year. His five years there brought him into contact with Dr Mahathir Mohamed, then embarking on his political career. The relationship was a wary one. In 1968, he was appointed Judge of the Federal Court of Malaysia, Chief Justice in 1973, and Lord President in 1974. He held the latter post till his retirement in 1982. After his retirement, Suffian was much in demand to head international legal arbitration panels in Geneva and elsewhere.

His publications included the first official translation into Malay of the Malayan Constitution (1963); An Introduction to the Constitution of Malaysia (1972) and, with F. A. Trinidade and H. P. Lee, The Constitution of Malaysia: Its Development 1957-1977 (1978), both published by Oxford University Press; as well as an article in JMBRAS on the tomb of a Brunei sultan who died in China.

The constitutional crisis in 1988 in Malaysia, which led to the sacking of Tun Salleh Abbas as Lord President, and the subsequent sacking by the executive of five Supreme Court judges, was a source of great distress and concern to him, marking, as he and many others believed at the time, the emasculation of the Malaysian judiciary, previously outstanding in its reputation for independence. Although by nature a modest and humble man, he spoke out bravely and publicly against the actions of Mahathir Mohamad, by then Prime Minister. Mahathir roundly and publicly denounced him. But he stuck to his guns. His misgivings expressed in 1988 had proved only too fully justified.

Tun Suffian was died in Kuala Lumpur on 26 September 2000 at the age of 82, and buried in the Royal Cemetery at Kuala Kangsar as a mark of the profound respect in which he was held by HRH the Sultan of Perak