President delivered this speech at the launch of the book “A Quest for Freedom” by Dr Gopalan Raman on 21 August 2018. Read more about the book here.
We give honour where honour is due. This evening, I am honoured to honour an elder statesman, doyen of the Bar and a living legend. I am not speaking about three different persons but a three in one person. Dr Gopalan Raman. It is my privilege to address this august audience at this historic launch of Dr Raman’s autobiography, “A Quest For Freedom”.
I want to share on three different facets of the man, Dr G Raman.
The first is Dr G Raman, the gentleman. In the words of then Law Society Vice President, Thio Shen Yi, SC reading the citation for the CC Tan Award 2014, Dr Raman articulates his views “with grace, reason and respect, all in the best traditions of a senior advocate” and “his gentlemanly demeanour makes him eminently approachable”. It was only fitting that this highest award of the Law Society for “honesty, fair play, gentlemanliness and integrity” befit Dr Raman to a tee. I was so glad to be serving on the Council that awarded Dr Raman this high but fully deserved honour.
When we speak of gentlemen, we speak of chivalry, courtesy, honourable conduct but rarely do we speak of gentleness. Dr Raman had both. A gentle gentleman. An anecdote was also shared on that occasion of conferring of the CC Tan Award that perfectly illustrates the gentleness of the gentleman Dr G Raman. I can do no better than quote it: A Council Member serving with me had “remarked that in his first year of practice, he was assigned to defend a hopeless summary judgment application. After he lost the hearing, opposing counsel Dr Raman took pains to speak to him to commend and compliment the effort. That encouraged a defeated newbie and made a lasting impression on him”.
I have a personal anecdote to share too. I had the privilege of working together with Dr Raman in 2003 in annotating Order 71 and Order 72 of the Rules of Court for the Singapore Court Practice. These were the non-contentious and contentious probate proceedings rules. I was keenly aware (and this added a layer of pressure) that I was collaborating with the numero uno expert in probate practice. After submitting my draft to him, I was apprehensive. What would Dr Raman say? What came back to me were Dr Raman’s points in neat hand writing on my draft but with a tone so gentle that you did not feel he was correcting you even though he was! His comments were erudite and classily made. What a personal honour to have my name in association with his for the bible on civil procedure.
It was Nelson Mandela who shared perceptively with us that “… to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” That is precisely, what Dr Raman demonstrated for us in his practice of law. By being the perfect gentleman.
The Gutsy Man
Dr Raman may have been a gentleman and gentle, but he has never been a pushover. There was, and is, a fire in his belly. Another dimension of his life in the law is the gutsy man.
He paid the price of his convictions during his dark days of detention that he writes about in his book. It makes for gripping reading.
But a recent example stood out for me. On the night of his CC Tan Award, the highest recognition from your peers in the law, Dr Raman took the opportunity in his speech not to focus on himself but to focus on the Bar and reiterated a longstanding issue on Section 38(1)(c) of the LPA. He said: “Imagine a provision that the Society can only deal with legislation referred to it and that we could not comment on any law unless invited to do so”. Dr Raman acknowledged in that acceptance speech the “sea change in the Society’s relations with the government. The government is forthcoming in extending a helping hand. The spirit of cooperation is manifest”. He is right. Our recent dialogue and discussions with the Government on Section 38(1)(c) of the LPA have been productive and positive even if we are nowhere near the finishing line of the aspirational goal of a complete unshackling in the near future.
But if you read Dr Raman’s CC Tan Award acceptance speech, and I commend you to read that, you will still see the flaming fire in the belly of the good doctor. A clarion call for independence of the Bar which he rightly asserted is a prerequisite for an independent judiciary. This was his closing appeal to the younger members of the Bar: “The future of the profession is in your hands. Rally round and realize your ideals. … It is my earnest hope that we would one day be able to translate into reality, more effectively the objectives set out in the Professional Conduct Rules: To maintain the rule of law and the independence and integrity of the profession”. These were not the wide-eyed innocent ideals of a fresh law graduate. They were the unmistakeable, undiluted passion of the heart of a septuagenarian that is the measure of the gutsy man.
Perhaps, this is true freedom after all. Of conscience and conviction. Dovetailing with George Orwell’s pithy quote that “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
The Great Man
You’ve heard of Dr G Raman the gentleman, Dr G Raman the gutsy man but there is a third and final facet to surface. Dr G Raman, the great man.
Dr Gopalan Raman is great not only because of the CC Tan Award. There are many things that make him great. He is a great expert in the law and in his chosen niche area of chancery practice. Generations of Practice Law Course students (before the Part B course), including myself, owe our tutelage in wills, probate and administration to him. Dr Raman, you were our first great lecturer and tutor who inspired us to gain success in succession.
Your books are on my shelf and on the shelves of many practitioners. Probate and Administration in Singapore and Malaysia; and the Probate, Administration and Succession volume of Halsbury’s Laws of Singapore to name two. Whenever we had an issue of law on wills, probate and administration, the question that we would ask ourselves would be: What does G Raman say?
It was my joy to be able to showcase your greatness when I served as Inaugural Subject Coordinator of Wills Probate and Administration for the Part B Students I consolidated the materials you had prepared and built on the excellent curriculum you had left behind as your bequest. In large part, I was updating not revamping your course. How can you improve on gold standards? You were the trailblazer and pioneer specialist in probate that we all wanted to learn from and emulate. I had the pleasure of being up close and personal in that trail.
His greatness is reflected in his lifelong learning too. At the grand age of 65 when some are retiring, he was retooling. In December 2003, Gopalan Raman became Dr Gopalan Raman after acquiring his doctorate from the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London.
Dr G Raman was also an outstanding lawyer-leader. He was Council Member in 2004 and elected Vice President of the Society one year later in 2005 serving under President Philip Jeyaretnam, SC as Professor Kevin Tan has chronicled in Fiat Justitia.
But finally, his greatness is because of his generosity. The proceeds of sale of “A Quest for Freedom” will be donated to the Law Society’s Practice Resilience Fund to be launched in the near future. He is still pioneering even though he has crossed his 80th year of life in January this year.
In his CC Tan Award acceptance speech, Dr Raman quoted Albert Einstein who said: “Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds”. Dr Raman. You have and always had a great spirit. That is why you will always be a great man to us in the Law Society
In conclusion, another Albert, Albert Camus wrote that “the only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion”. Dr Raman, you may have been detained once, but you were always free. There are many walking around who appear free but whose spirits are internally detained. In the foreword to your memoirs authored by former President, Mr TPB Menon, you made a “remarkable journey from Chenderoh to Singapore and despite the hardship, financial constraints and detention without trial”, you “triumphed against all odds”.
The Bar respects and salutes you for the gentleman, gutsy man and great man that you are. May you always be free to pursue your passions and pursuits as you enter the next season of your life. As Wordsworth wrote, “Come grow old with me. The best is yet to be.” May you enjoy the legacies and bequests of rich friendships in the Bar that you have left behind for us. But most of all, may the great treasure trove of family who loved you and stood by you (wife Sarala and daughter, Rejini and after her marriage, your son-in-law Devanand, and grandchildren Bharath and Bhuvan be your continuing comfort and joy in your golden years ahead). This is a specially significant occasion for each of your family members as well.
Dr Raman, “A Quest For Freedom” is your story. It is history. This is a story that the Bar needs to remember. It is a story we must never forget.