KUALA LUMPUR: Former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram was well-known for giving on-the-spot oral judgments and landmark rulings relating to constitutional, public, contract and industrial law.
Sri Ram, who died earlier today, aged 79, had the distinction of being the first lawyer in private practice to be appointed straight to the Court of Appeal when it was set up in 1994. He never served as a judicial commissioner or a High Court judge.
He was a Court of Appeal judge for 15 years before being elevated to the Federal Court in 2009, and subsequently retired in 2010.
Many of his rulings made the headlines.
On July 12, 2007, Sri Ram, as a Court of Appeal judge, made a landmark decision on a 17-year-old boy’s case for murdering his tuition teacher’s daughter after ruling that his detention at the pleasure of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong was unconstitutional.
The case caused an uproar when Sri Ram ruled that Section 92 (2) of the Child Act was unconstitutional as it gave the power to the executive to sentence a child convicted of murder.
He said it went against the doctrine of separation of powers as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.
Sri Ram had held that the courts must have the exclusive authority to find a person guilty of murder and then impose a penalty, and it could not merely convict a person but leave the responsibility of sentencing to the King, the rulers or governors who acted on the advice of the executive.
On April 17, 2009, Sri Ram also made a landmark decision in allowing former national athletics coach C Ramanathan’s application to review the Court of Appeal’s earlier decision dated July 11, 2008.
He ruled that the Court of Appeal had the jurisdiction to review an appeal, which had already been determined, to avoid and correct injustice to the party.
He set aside the previous Court of Appeal’s order which upheld the sessions court’s decision in convicting Ramanathan and sentencing him to four years’ jail for molesting two underage female athletes in 1992.
On Jan 19, 2010, Sri Ram also made a ruling in a legal dispute between the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) and 354 Felda Kemahang settlers in Tanah Merah, Kelantan, over payments for oil palm fruits.
In the case, the Federal Court, comprising then Chief Justice Zaki Azmi, Federal Court judge Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin and Sri Ram, denied Felda leave to appeal against the Kota Bharu High Court’s decision ordering the agency to pay RM7.8 million in damages and interest to the settlers.
After retiring in 2010, Sri Ram continued to practise as a lawyer.
He represented Anwar Ibrahim in his appeal on a sodomy case at the Federal Court, his defamation suit against Khairy Jamaluddin, and the case relating to the prime minister’s Pardons Board.
He also acted as counsel on R Kengadharan’s appeal to challenge the imposition of departure levy on Malaysians travelling overseas at the Court of Appeal, and Syed Iskandar Syed Jaafar Al Mahdzar’s appeal to challenge the dissolution of Parliament.
Sri Ram also led the defence team in clerk Sam Ke Ting’s appeal against her conviction and jail sentence for reckless driving that caused the death of eight teenagers riding on modified bicycles, or basikal lajak, in the Court of Appeal.
He was also appointed as lead prosecutor by the Attorney-General’s Chambers in high-profile cases involving former prime minister Najib Razak’s 1MDB corruption case, and the audit report tampering case involving Najib and former 1MDB chief executive officer Arul Kanda Kandasamy.
He was also the leading prosecutor for the corruption trials of Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, involving a solar hybrid project for 369 rural schools in Sarawak, and money laundering.