The Relevance of Augustine Paul

A meditation about the difficulty of celebrating the accomplishments or mourning the death of Augustine Paul, the Federal Court Judge, who passed away on 2 January 2010 from pancreatic cancer.

By Fahri Azzat

There is no denial that Datuk Seri S. Augustine Paul, was an accomplished man. I have reproduced the write up about him from the Federal Court website below in case they remove his bio-date in due course. But let’s just run by some of the highlights all the same.

Augustine Paul had a wide and varied legal experience with stints as a Federal Counsel and thereafter sitting as a Magistrate, Senior Assistant Registrar, a Sessions Judge before being promoted to Judicial Commissioner. His rise after that from the High Court Judge to the Federal Court was meteoric. He was active in hockey and church. Sacrificed his time to be an external examiner for universities. He was intellectually active and wrote prolifically, writing and editing several books that have become standard references in practice, presented papers whenever he had time and opportunity. All that on top of his job as a judge.

We would and should ordinarily be mourning his death and celebrating his accomplishments and what he stood for in life on his death. This is natural for such accomplishments are deserving of a celebration.

But I, and I suspect others too, have difficulty in either mourning Augustine Paul the Judge or celebrating his achievements. But truth be told, we want to mourn or celebrate him. After all, he is a human being like us when we get down to it. The passing away of one is always occasion for either, more so when that person is a Federal Court Judge, one of the handful of judges who sit in the highest and most powerful court in our country. But why this difficulty?

Sadly, it is due to the man himself. Augustine Paul was a judge. As one, he was tasked with one of the most challenging and difficult job in civilized society – to be a fountain of justice; to ensure that the waters of justice run freely, deeply and clearly into society; to direct its course so that it may cleanse the stained fabric of our nation. It is not a task for everybody. It is a task for only the ablest of men and women in our society – those who not simply possess but exemplify the virtues of honesty, intellect, courage, a strong will, emotional stability, humility, patience, incorruptibility, mercy and always remembering their humanity. Many fail. Few escape with their reputation fully intact. Only a rare handful will have the privilege of walking down the corridor of history.

Augustine Paul will not walk down that corridor. Though he may have believed he was doing right, in the final analysis, his conduct on the bench and his written judgments will show that he had little to do with striving for justice. We will find that his conduct and judgments were very much in favour of the government in power in crucial cases. This was seen most vividly when he was a Judicial Commissioner hearing the Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim trial and reinforced throught his career. And for his abilities and judgments, he was rewarded magnificently – a Judicial Commissioner in 1996; High Court Judge in 1998; Court of Appeal Judge in 2003 and Federal Court in 2005. A Sessions Court Judge to a Federal Court Judge in less than 10 years.

And that is where our difficulty lies: he was a judge; he took an oath to uphold the Federal Constitution and the cause of justice; he may have thought he did it, but that is not enough. We, the public, must feel he did it too. If not that is not justice but merely favouring one over the other.

Read more at: The Relevance of Augustine Paul