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  • Writer's pictureArjun Gananathan

Tommy Thomas Grew Up Inspired by Perry Mason TV Show

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

Source: New Straits Times

Like countless other successful barristers, former Malaysian Attorney General Tommy

Thomas grew up a mischievous and playful student, before finding inspiration in a certain

fictional television character, and later distinguishing himself as the first in his family to join

the legal profession. A son of two immigrants from Kerala, India, Thomas was raised in a

middle-class family.

As a child, he attended Pasar Road English School and the Victoria

Institution, where he developed a keen interest for history and the English language. But

after glimpsing Raymond Burr’s depiction of criminal defense attorney Perry Mason on

television, Thomas announced to his peers, at the age of fourteen, that he would grow up to

be a trial lawyer.

Thomas thus elected to read law at the University of Manchester. At university, Thomas was

instructed by acclaimed English legal academics: Professor Harry Street (tort law scholar),

Andrew Ashworth QC (current Vinerian Professor of English Law at Oxford University), and

Brenda Hale (former President of the Supreme Court of the UK). After passing the Bar at

Middle Temple, Thomas pursued a master’s degree in international relations at the London

School of Economics and Political Science.

Raymond Burr played the title character in the 1957 TV series, Perry Mason. Source: Town & Country Magazine

When Thomas eventually returned to Kuala Lumpur in 1975, he joined the law firm Skrine,

and worked under the mentorship of Stanley Peddie. After only four years of practice,

Thomas began litigating important cases before the Malaysian Federal Court. He eventually

established his own private boutique litigation firm, modelled on a barrister’s chambers in

England. As a trial lawyer, Thomas would often spend three or four months preparing for a

single case, and would write out each of his cross-examination questions, as traditionalists

do, with pen and pad.

Thomas carried this diligence into his work as Attorney General,

where he was tasked with investigating and prosecuting issues related to the 1 Malaysian

Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, evaluating lopsided government contracts, and

pushing for legal reform. From his conversation with us, a clear picture of Tommy Thomas

emerges: a strong advocate for his clients and his country, who took pride in his diligence

and thoroughness.

Thomas’ new book, Justice in the Wilderness, an account of his 45-year legal career, is set

to be released in December 2020. Written during the Covid-19 lockdown, Thomas discusses

his major decisions as Attorney General, including the prosecution of the former Prime

Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and other key participants involved in the 1MDB scandal.

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