Legal eagle Edgar Joseph Jr dies aged 90


Free Malaysia Today
Edgar Joseph Jr in full attire as a High Court judge.

KUALA LUMPUR: Former Federal Court judge Edgar Joseph Jr, regarded as one of the brilliant legal minds, has died. He was 90.

Court of Appeal judge Lim Chong Fong, who visited him regularly, said Edgar died of old age at his residence in Bukit Tunku early Friday morning.

“He died peacefully in the presence of his caregivers,” he told FMT.

Lim said details of funeral arrangements would be announced upon the arrival of Edgar’s sister, Esther, from Canberra, Australia.

Free Malaysia Today
Cyrus Das, Edgar Joseph Jr and his wife Agatha, and Catherine Eu at one of the Malaysia Bar events.

He said a group of friends, who included retired judge VC George, former Malaysian Bar executive director Catherine Eu and senior lawyers WSW Davidson and Kam Woon Wah, had gathered on June 1 to celebrate Edgar’s birthday, which fell on May 28.

Lim said Edgar was involved in arbitration work after his retirement in 1999 but led a reclusive life following the death of his wife, Agatha, about 10 years ago.

Edgar attended St Paul’s Institution in Seremban, where he was born. His classmate in 1951, the late Chan Choong Tak, a former Dewan Negara president, who wrote an article in 2013 for the school’s alumni, described Edgar as an orator and a top student in the English language and English literature.

He used to lead the school team to win numerous debating competitions.

According to Lim, Edgar’s father was also a lawyer in the town and young Edgar joined his legal firm upon qualifying as a barrister from Lincoln’s Inn in 1955.

He was made a High Court judge in 1982 and served in Penang, and was later elevated to the Supreme Court, later renamed the Federal Court.

Former deputy public prosecutor Shaik Daud Ismail said he had many memorable legal battles on white collar crimes and corruption cases in the early 1970s against Edgar.

“He was thorough in his work and presented high-quality submissions to persuade trial judges to decide in favour of his clients,” said Shaikh Daud, who retired as a Court of Appeal judge.

Lawyer Cyrus Das, in paying tribute to Edgar, said he was one of the finest legal eagles in the apex court at that time.

“He had several landmark judgments to his name which still stand as good law until today,” said the former Malaysian Bar president.

Free Malaysia Today
Edgar Joseph Jr celebrated his birthday with close friends days after he turned 90 on May 28.

Das said Edgar listened patiently with interest to the lawyers’ argument on the main disputes between parties.

“There was therefore no predetermination or merely reading the appeal records or shutting lawyers out on arguments,” he said.

He said that in the 1997 celebrated case of R Rama Chandran v Industrial Court, Edgar advocated that in judicial review cases, there can be a review of the substantive decision of a tribunal or decision making body as well as the procedure for it.

Rama Chandran was 51 and unemployed for the last seven years. To remit to the Industrial Court would certainly prolong the litigation and do great harm and injustice to the employee.

The Federal Court, by a majority, chose not to remit the case to the Industrial Court for a retrial. It proceeded with the computation of the monetary compensation instead of reinstatement.

Lawyer Bastian Pius Vendargon said Edgar’s depth of brilliant legal mind spanned over public and private laws.

“No doubt, he was one of the greatest legal minds the nation has seen. It was also a pleasure to appear before him in the High Court and the apex court,” he said.

Vendargon said Edgar had the most temperate character and was courteous to lawyers which made him “a man who belongs to a special class of judges”.

He said his rulings developed the law and resulted in Parliament legislating amendments to the Civil Laws Act, the Legal Profession Act, and the Criminal Procedure Code.

Lawyer V Sithambaram said Edgar, as counsel, was both fearless and meticulous in his submissions before judges like Fred Arulanandom and Gunn Chit Tuan.

“He won the admiration of both the Bar and the Bench and he was regarded as the leading criminal lawyer in Malaysia,” said the Penang-based lawyer.

Sithambaram, who was appointed ad hoc prosecutor in Najib Razak’s SRC International corruption case, vividly remembers of being usually stressed with fear as Edgar’s expectation from counsel was high.

“On one occasion he scolded me from the bench and I was in tears,” he said, recalling that Edgar told him, “Counsel, when you are a lawyer, you must have a thick skin, thick as the skin of a rhinoceros.”

Sithambaram said Edgar did not want lawyers to be rattled by the judge’s comments from the bench.

“He was a fatherly figure on the bench, he said, adding that Edgar’s research of the law even before the advent of the internet is admirable as his judgments referred to many Commonwealth authorities. - FMT

Legal eagle Edgar Joseph Jr dies aged 90