I often think that a good lawyer is one of the most unsung heroes in any community. The public does not take heed of lawyers as much as they do victims and criminals. Yet lawyers work on the frontlines of nation-building.
As far as lawyers go, few can match the prowess the late Karpal Singh, also known as the Tiger of Jelutong. I will always remember him as one of the fiercest lawyers around and for all the right reasons.
I remember reading a case for class, which dated from 1991 – the year that I was born. I glanced at the footnote and there was his name, “counsel for the defendant Karpal Singh”. He had defended the rights of a person detained without trial and it had gone down in textbook history.
Karpal Singh practiced law decades before I was even born, playing many roles. Sometimes he was a defendant but most of the time, he was a defender.
Unlike a lot of trained lawyers who retire from the courtroom after a long practice, Karpal Singh never stopped. He was still attending court even when he was well into his 70s and that diligence and hard work is something nobody can ever take away. “Jangan main-main dengan Perlembagaan [Don’t play around with the Constitution]”, he said, on his last day at Parliament. For many students such as me, the least you can say about Karpal Singh is that he is relentless.
He was also more than a lawyer: he was an activist for a multitude of causes such as human rights, the abolishment of both the death penalty and detention without trial. He was also active with the Bar Council and various other bodies. Yet he had no titles attached to his name. No Tan Sri, no Datuk.
Until the very end, he was a man of principles and ideals. He was someone that the younger generation could learn a thing or two from.
Rest well, Karpal Singh. Now the torch you kept alight passes to us, the next generation of lawyers.