By Mariam Mokhtar
His is not a household name and he is no stranger to controversy, but even in Ipoh’s legal circles, some claim not to know of him. Perhaps, they would rather forget, for he is Firoz Hussein bin Ahmad Jamaluddin, one of the lawyers who successfully represented Perak Menteri Besar Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir, against the former Perak speaker V. Sivakumar, in 2009.
“The outcome of that case upset many Ipohites, if not most of Perak,” I said, when introduced to him. The fracas of 2009 defined Malaysian politics.
The British-trained lawyer is quiet, self-assured and unassuming. He is very accommodating and his eyes are alert, like a cat eyeing its prey before pouncing. When he talks, he gives very little away. His speciality is Corporate and Commercial Litigation, Constitution and Public Law.
Firoz, whose mother comes from Taiping, said that his parents lived in Canning Garden in 1965, but moved to Kuala Terengganu, a year after his birth. “My grandparents continued to live in Canning Garden and we used to return “home” to Ipoh, several times a year for holidays.
“I have many happy memories of holidays spent with my parents, grandparents, cousins and other family members”, said Firoz about the Ipoh which he knew and grew up in, but which had inevitably changed.
The ‘youthful and baby-faced’ 46-year-old, is especially patient, when explaining lengthy legal terms. He exudes an air of confidence but denies the existence of another side to his character: “I have always endeavoured to be constant in my dealings and live up to the quote in Harper Lee’s book “To kill a mockingbird”; “Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on public streets”.
Displaying a strong set of values he said: “It is important for my sons to learn by the example I set for them and so I try to maintain this sense of constancy and honour in my dealings, both in the public and private spheres.”
A glance at his clothing shows a penchant for ties which he claims, remind him of the past: “Ties are akin to old friends and it’s always comforting to have old friends.”
“Most of the ties I wear are linked to my past or to some event in my life. On difficult days I wear ties that have a comforting memory of the past. My favourites are my university ties.”
The young man who aspired to become an architect became an “accidental lawyer” in the economic downturn of the 1980s.
“After leaving school, I joined the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. The 1980s was a wonderful time to be in London, and I was invigorated by the challenge posed by architecture.
“I switched to law as it was a shorter degree,” he said, to reduce the financial burden on his parents.
“Young people now are spoilt for choice with the options available. In my day it was a question of survival and one had to be stoic about it.”
Perhaps, the downside of being a lawyer is the lack of time for relaxation. “To be honest my work never ends!” said Firoz who is adamant about spending quality time with his family. He also loves reading, travelling, listening to music and socialising with friends.
He described the occasion when he accompanied the remaining survivors of the Batang Kali massacre to the English courts when they brought their case against the British Government.
“I became involved in the Batang Kali Action Committee, when I was with my former law firm, Puthucheary Firoz & Mai. My former partner and good friend Dominic Puthucheary was a friend of people who were involved with the Committee. We were approached for help and have been happy to help on a pro bono basis throughout.
He believes that the publicity generated, will have exonerated the claimants and the other victims of the massacre, in the eyes of the public.
In a career spanning 22 years, Firoz described the challenges of giving every litigant, a just and equitable resolution to their legal problems. He singled out one case in which he accidentally became involved and was compelled to help, when he was attending an appeal on a commercial matter in Sabah.
“A young man was alleged to be a member of the Jemaah Islamiah movement. The charge related to possession of firearms and he was sentenced to death by the High Court.”
“The appeal in Sabah was conducted by a young lawyer who did not appear to fully appreciate the legal issues surrounding such a serious charge. As the case progressed I was compelled to assist…it was a matter of life and death. Subsequently, the man’s death sentence was substituted. So there was a happy outcome.”
His most difficult case was to represent the Government of Timor Leste in its maritime boundary dispute with Australia. He was glad to be part of the team assisting the poor of Timor Leste. “It was an uphill task to achieve a just result,” he said. Timor, the new and impoverished country was up against the wealthy and powerful Australia.
“From a position of getting almost nothing, Timor managed to negotiate an equal sharing of resources in the disputed maritime areas.”
After graduating from Leicester and Cambridge, Firoz worked in London for four years before returning home: “Malaysia is my country and my family is here.”
If he were faced with a choice of entering politics or being a diplomat, he said, “I don’t fit the bill as a politician but I wouldn’t mind assisting on the diplomatic front.”
“It would be great to be the High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. I have many links with the UK and I believe that my knowledge and experience of the UK would help me promote Malaysia’s interests in a positive manner.”
Ipoh Echo would like to thank Dato’ Firoz Hussein for the interview.