KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 31 — Hundreds of people turned up at the Nirvana 2 funeral home here today to pay their last respects to former Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram. Most of them were from the legal fraternity.
Brilliant. Kind. Witty. Blunt. Hardworking. Gentleman. Extraordinary. Legend.
These were among the common words that trickled from their lips in their remembrance of Sri Ram.
Datuk V. Sithambaram, a senior lawyer who led the prosecution in Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s SRC International Sdn Bhd case, spoke of Sri Ram’s kindness and willingness to share his legal knowledge.
Datuk V Sithambaram speaks to the media after paying his last respects to Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram.— Picture by Hari Anggara
“Apart from being a legend, he can hold court. We all go to court to argue cases, he can go to court and hold court and everybody will listen to him. He can make a serious point with a sense of humour that you will remember at the end of the day. And he can make a complex issue very simple to understand for the layman.
“That’s his gift, that’s very hard to come by,” Sithambaram who had known Sri Ram for 44 years since 1978, told reporters.
Sithambaram had been on the same legal team in a fair number of civil cases in which Sri Ram had been the lead counsel in the past, and recalled the latter was a “born teacher”.
“He loves to teach, he loves to see others improve. People are quite jealous about sharing but he loves to share and likes everyone to be a good lawyer.”
Sithambaram also said Sri Ram worked very hard, right to the end.
“I think it’s his calling to be a lawyer and a judge. And he will be very fondly remembered by his advocacy skills, his pronouncement of the law as a judge and he is also a judge for the poor man.
“He’s always quite sympathetic to the poor man. It’s not about power, it’s about what is right and wrong, and he will do it irrespective of who you are. So I think he’s a legend of a man, it’s a passing of an era. For me, it’s very hard for me to imagine another lawyer of his standing, calibre and wit,” he added.
But Sithambaram also said that Sri Ram was a perfectionist and could occasionally lose his temper, though it would cool off quite quickly.
Former Attorney General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas arrives at Nirvana 2 in Kuala Lumpur. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Those who came to bid a final goodbye to Sri Ram were a veritable who’s who at the top of Malaysia’s law club.
There was Attorney General Tan Sri Idrus Harun, Solicitor-General Datuk Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh, former attorney-general Tan Sri Tommy Thomas, Malaysian Bar president Karen Cheah and past office-bearers such as Datuk Cyrus Das, Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, Christopher Leong, and Steven Thiru.
Other high-profile personalities who attended the wake were former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Mah Weng Kwai, former Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief Latheefa Koya and former Dewan Rakyat speaker Tan Sri Azhar Azizan Harun.
Malaysian Bar Council President Karen Cheah Yee Lynn arrives at Nirvana 2 to pay her last respects to Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Incumbent judges who were seen today include those from the Federal Court: Datuk Nallini Pathmanathan, Datuk Vernon Ong, and Datuk Mary Lim.
Others were from the Court of Appeal: Datuk Seri Kamaludin Md Said, Datuk Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera, Mohamed Zaini Mazlan and Datuk Wong Kian Kheong.
Seputeh MP Teresa Kok, Bangi MP Syahredzan Johan, Selayang MP William Leong, former Klang MP Charles Santiago were also spotted, while the prosecution team and former and current defence lawyers in former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) trial were also seen.
A hearse carrying Sri Ram’s body left the funeral home for Nirvana’s crematorium in Shah Alam, Selangor shortly before 2pm.
Others who came to the wake also remembered Sri Ram’s legal brilliance and kindness.
Local Government Minister Nga Kor Ming who came to express his condolences to Sri Ram’s family said “Malaysia has lost a legend”, noting “we felt deeply saddened and believe Malaysia has lost one of the most brilliant legal brains”.
He also spoke of how Sri Ram may be the most productive judge in Malaysian history with nearly 1,500 written judgments when he was a Court of Appeal judge, noting that the latter had helped clear many backlog of cases at the Court of Appeal.
“Many in the legal fraternity even regard him as the Lord Denning of Malaysia. Lord Denning has always been regarded as one of the greatest judges in Commonwealth legal history, and we are very glad Malaysia produced such a brilliant judge. Whether in practice and also in the bench, Gopal Sri Ram’s in-depth knowledge is definitely one of the highest standards and he has set the benchmark for so many juniors to follow, so we are deeply saddened, hope that he rest in peace. We will miss him dearly.”
Recalling Sri Ram’s “blunt, straightforward manner” as a judge, Nga related an anecdote of when he had presented his arguments in a case before the then Court of Appeal, with the lawyer for another side then presenting his arguments for not more than five minutes when Sri Ram had remarked: “Learned counsel, if you don’t keep your mouth shut, I will throw you out from this window.”
Nga said it was not that Sri Ram was being rude, but it showed that he was already prepared to write a written judgment after having deliberated on the case, saying “that shows how diligent, hardworking and devoted” he was. “He actually devoted his life for the passion of law.”
Lawyer Ramkarpal Singh is seen at the compound as they paying their last respect to Lawyer late Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram during his wake here ar Nirvana 2, Kuala Lumpur January 31, 2023. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Ramkarpal Singh, a lawyer who is also the deputy law minister, said his family has known Sri Ram for a long time through his late father Karpal Singh, noting: “He and my late father go back a very long way, from the early days of practice in the ‘70s.”
Ramkarpal said he had appeared before Sri Ram in many cases when the latter was a Court of Appeal judge and later a Federal Court judge and had also worked alongside him as a lawyer, noting: “And it was always a privilege to have him guide me. He has given me a lot of guidance in the past, not only to me, but to many lawyers out there. And I think he will be very sorely missed. Certainly a great loss to the profession and also to the country.”
“I think obviously he is renowned for his intelligence, a very sound legal practitioner, I think I would remember him certainly for his humour, a very good sense of humour. We had good conversations and I will always remember and cherish those times,” he said when met after he attended the wake.
Damansara MP Gobind Singh Deo arrives at Nirvana 2, Kuala Lumpur for paying his last respect to late Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram January 31, 2023. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Damansara MP Gobind Singh Deo, who is also a lawyer and former minister, described Sri Ram as a “brilliant” lawyer and judge who contributed immensely to the legal profession and who was always of great help to lawyers who need any advice or guidance.
“He’s always been very, very helpful, when it came to guidance, when I had questions of law, he would help, he was always very quick to respond and to provide me with the guidance that a younger lawyer would need. I am grateful for his contribution to not just the legal profession in the form of lawyering, but also how he developed the law as a judge in the bench.
“This is a huge loss to all of us, especially the legal fraternity. It is really rare that we will find lawyers like Gopal Sri Ram, the kind of knowledge that he had, he used it to develop the law and of course to help as many people as he possibly could,” he said as extended his condolences to the family.
Having appeared before Sri Ram and having both worked together and appeared against him in cases as a lawyer, Gobind remembered Sri Ram as being “very quick on his feet” and having considerable knowledge of the law.
“He was one of those legal minds that was able to put together an argument very quickly, provide the solutions to problems almost instantly because of his understanding of the law and also how it has developed over the years. And I think that’s something that one can only achieve through experience and practice, which he had,” he said.
“He was extraordinary,” he said.
A hearse is seen leaving at the compound of Nirvana 2 during the wake of Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, in Kuala Lumpur January 31, 2023. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Datuk N. Sivananthan, a lawyer who represents former 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy in a joint trial with Najib, believes that many people came here today because of the “kind and compassionate person” that Sri Ram was under his harsh exterior.
“I think the best way to describe Ram is beneath the rather stern, difficult-to-approach person that he is when he is a lawyer, there’s a very kind man who is ever willing to open his doors to anyone who wants anything to do with the law.
“His passion for the law is immeasurable if you ask me, ask him something about the law and he will sit down for hours with you. He lives and breathes the law,” said Sivananthan, who has known Sri Ram for 25 years since his days as a Court of Appeal judge.
“As a legal eagle he’s one of a kind. He has been described as the Lord Denning of Malaysia,” he said, noting that Sri Ram was also given the honour of being a bencher of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn.
“He stands up as an advocate and he’s harsh, but he sits down and talks to you, he’s a gentleman. He means what he says, he takes what he says seriously, he’s a man of his word,” he said.
Sri Ram died at the age of 79 on Sunday in a private hospital, following a lung infection.
He is survived by his wife Datin Seri Chandra Sri Ram, his two sons Govind and Vinayak, a sister, brother-in-law, nieces and nephews.
In his long legal career, he first became a lawyer in 1970, a Bar Council member from 1976 to 1977 and from 1983 to 1984, and was the first lawyer in Malaysia to be elevated directly to be a Court of Appeal judge in 1994.
He became a Federal Court judge in April 2009 until his retirement in February 2010, and later returned to private practice.
Handling many high-profile cases as a private lawyer, Sri Ram was lead prosecutor for Najib’s 1MDB trial and Najib’s trial over the alleged tampering of the auditor-general’s 2016 report on 1MDB.
Sri Ram was also lead prosecutor for Najib’s wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor’s trial over the soliciting and receiving of millions of ringgit in bribes in exchange for helping to secure a RM1.25 billion contract, and Rosmah’s separate money-laundering trial — which has yet to start — involving over RM7 million.