By Mahadev Shankar | IN MEMORY
Sardar Hakam Singh Gill breathed his last on the 7th August 2018 in Petaling Jaya. He was born in a village near Moga, Punjab in India in the year 1924. His death at the ripe old age on ninety four was not an occasion for grief but of triumphant celebration.
He had dedicated his life to the law. And his nobility was exemplified by his sacrifice of the opportunity for judicial advancement so that his siblings would not be deprived of their prospects of a decent living and a good education.
In the early fifties he had joined the clerical service of the registry of the Sessions Court in Seremban. He very rapidly became the senior litigation clerk there and the most trusted guide philosopher and friend to every Sessions President who also served there.
The first was Syed Sheh Barakhbah, in 1954, then Raja Azlan Shah from 1956 to 1957, followed by Tan Sri Ali Hassan in 1958 to 1959. It was during these years that Tan Sri Edgar Joseph Jnr, and I became his proteges.
For his knowledge of the Subordinate Court Rules and the case law appropriate to the kind of cases tried there was encyclopedic. In those early years pre-Merdeka promising junior officers in the judicial service were being selected to be groomed for higher office with offers of a judicial scholarship for training in London to be called to the English Bar. Examples of such personnel were Sarban Singh Gill later to become Chief Justice, Au ah Wah, Sivapragasam, Parmalingam, Harun ldris, Syed Othman and many others all of whom rose to positions of the highest judicial eminence.
Hakam as we all called him was also offered this opportunity but being the character he was, he turned it down as he was then the family breadwinner and also solely responsible for the care and advancement of his siblings.
He was not only devoted but the dedication which he displayed to his work, and his grasp not just of legal principles, but also of the practical niceties of what was needed for the efficient functioning of the judicial machinery left me in no doubt that had he accepted that offer he would certainly have ended up as a judge in the Federal Court.
Nevertheless his rise through the ranks to the glass ceiling of one rank below a high court judgeship was meteroric. By the early sixties he was promoted from the Sessions Registry to become the Assistant registrar of the High Court in Malacca where he served the following judges in succession i.e. Tan Sri Ismail Khan, Tan Sri Manan Abdullah, Datuk S.M.Yong for a short spell, and then Tan Sri Ajaib Singh and lastly Tan Sri Wan Yahaya bin Pawan Teh.
We are looking at a span of twenty years here and focusing at this point in the mid eighties.
In parallel with his rise to the pinnacle of his limits Tan Sri Edgar Joseph and I had already become judges of the High Court in our own right. Ever mindful of our debt to Hakam, as it is to him that we turned when we had to deal with bottle necks in the Registries in the Courts in which we served. Edgar first in Penang and I in Johor Bahru in late eighty three . It may well be that tenderfoot judges were blooded in battle by being assigned to try a murder case.
My fist was a particularly nasty murder of a Chinese Shopkeeper and his wife in Tenang by a group of five conspirators In a brutal gang robbery.
This was to be in the High Court in Muar. To shelter me from my inexperience I applied without hesitation to the Chief Justice to direct Hakam to come over from the Malacca High court to help me. Special permission had also to be obtained from Justice Wan Yahaya. What a comfort that was. Starting with the Jury selection of seven out of a list of twenty and then organising the interpreters required and keeping the Court going smoothly despite the occult interference of a Javanese Bomoh were only part of this learning experience. With five accused there was also a very troublesome formulation of the directions to the jury on the complexities of the law relating to common intention. Once again it was Hakam to the rescue with a template .
It was a summing up which had once been given by Ismail Khan which was a model of clarity and simplicity on what the jury needed to be told.
The defence team was composed of G.F.Nelson, Kaliadas and Balakrishnan who left no stone unturned in their valiant efforts to secure an acquittal. The trial was spread over about four months.
Outside the working hours my task was tempered by the chats I had with Hakam about old times we had spent in Seremban and those occasions when Edgar and I had appeared in his Courts as Counsel.
Hakam had served out the full term of his tenure in the service of the law. He was the hidden power house which drove the judicial machine. Like the force of gravity which is always felt but not seen he kept all the parts, court staff, files, counsel, the public and the Judges he so faithfully served like a well oiled machine.
A man like this has many stories to narrate of human foibles, and the goings on behind the scenes. He also took a very active part in the administrative affairs of the Sikh temple or Gurdwara, being a very intense spiritual person.
Thanks to his self sacrifice his siblings have all done well for themselves. One of them is Sardar Lall Singh who rose to eminence in the Department of Forstry under the leadership of Tan Sri Salleh Nor.
For his distinguished service to the county Hakam was awarded the AMN honour.
Tan Sri Edgar Joseph jnr, and I have long since retired from the judiciary but about ten years behind him we are still plodding on to the end of the road.
In good chronological sequence Hakam has gone first. Mercifully he passed on peacefully carrying with him all the memories of a full life, well lived in the service of the country, the Malaysian community and his friends and family.
Even at this late stage, in the evenings of our lives, the death of Sardar Hakam Singh Gill has diminished us. Our only consolation perhaps is the thought that when we also pass into the shades he will be there to show us the way to achieve that peace which passes all understanding.
[Mahadev Shankar is a prominent Malaysian lawyer and former Malaysian Court of Appeal Judge]
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