My Story: Justice in the Wilderness is the autobiography of Tommy Thomas, a former Attorney General of Malaysia from 2018 to 2020. In the days leading to the announcement of his appointment as Attorney General, the author decided that he would maintain a diary of his time in office for publication. Soon after taking office, that option was ruled out as it would be piecemeal and disjointed. It would not serve as a narrative. Nonetheless, throughout the twenty-one months that the author served as the chief legal advisor to the Prime Minister and his administration he was alert to the possibility of ultimately recording his experience.
The decision was made for him when the COVID-19 lockdown took effect on 18th March 2020. Being “imprisoned” at home for some six weeks propelled the author to put pen to paper to narrate his experience in the Attorney General’s office. As he began writing it soon dawned on the author that merely confining the manuscript to the last two years of his career would not provide the necessary background for a true appreciation of what he did and where he failed in office. Hence, the decision to start at the beginning.
The author starts his story with ancestors: they have a long pedigree. Hence, he begins with his origins. Family and upbringing matter. So does education. The author was blessed to attend schools and universities which had their glory days in the 1960s and 1970s and were unmatched in their history. When he commenced the practice of law in the Malaysian Bar, he was tremendously fortunate to be supervised by the nation’s best and brightest barristers. They were his mentors, as claimed by the author. So was a London Q.C. whom the author under-studied in many cases. More important than their scholarship and legal erudition was their single-minded steadfastness to integrity and honesty, values that not only underpin the law but also life.
Writing about old cases brought back fond memories. The judicial crisis of 1988 scarred our psyche, and the author writes about it here for the first time three decades later. The sense of sadness and tragedy is still raw. His professional career suffered a jolt in the mid-1990s when he was sued for defamation in five civil suits. Damages totaling RM300 million were sought against the author and his law firm. Upon the settlement of the suits by insurers without his knowledge, his criticism of their conduct resulted in contempt proceedings and a sentence of six months in prison. Fortunately, the sentence was overturned on appeal. But having the cloud of such adverse litigation hanging over one’s head for four years was not for the faint-hearted. His role as a political lawyer receives a chapter, so do the milestone General Elections in 2013 and 2018. His candidature and appointment as Attorney General are recounted.
Nearly half of this book centres on the highlights of the Attorney General’s office. 1MDB matters dominate, considered in seven chapters. So too the prosecution of the former Prime Minister, Najib Razak, and Goldman Sachs. Lop-sided contracts and law reform, identified as his priority issues, are explained. Controversial matters like the Rome Statute, the inquest into fireman Adib’s death and contempt against him, and the withdrawal of charges against twelve members of the LTTE are considered. Finally, the shocking decision of Prime Minister Tun Mahathir to resign, his fateful announcement on 24th February 2020, the author’s resignation, and the fall of the short-lived Pakatan Harapan coalition government are frankly discussed.
My Story: Justice in the Wilderness is the first insider’s account by a Pakatan Harapan government official on the achievements, disappointments, missed opportunities, and failures of the first non-Barisan Nasional administration in the sixty-year history of independent Malaysia. Although history and politics are discussed, this book is not intended to be a history of our times. Rather, it is a personal odyssey, a quest for justice. In this work, the author was alive to avoid legalese and legal jargon.