Practice and the Profession: Then and Now
Updated: Oct 2, 2021
Source: Options, The Edge
Tan Sri Dato’ V.C. George entered the Malayan legal profession in 1957 upon being called to the English Bar. He practised in a myriad of areas before specialising in commercial law. After 25 years at the Bar, he was appointed to the Bench as a High Court Judge before being elevated to the Court of Appeal, where he retired. Through his fascinating stories from his time at the Bar and Bench, he offers us an insight into how much legal practice has evolved from the post-independence era up to today.
One area which has undergone much change is trial advocacy with the use of witness statements in place of examination in chief. This relatively new practice involves the exchanging of witness statements ahead of trial. Thus advocates have sight of a witness’ testimony before they set foot in court allowing them to better prepare for cross-examination. Advocates in the pre-witness statement era did not have this advantage as they had to base their cross-examination questions on the evidence elicited by their opponent at trial. It was also the norm back then for oral submissions to begin immediately after the end of a trial as opposed to today where counsels are given time to prepare written submissions.
Tan Sri was not just a witness to these changes - he was directly involved in enacting some of them. He was instrumental in the specialisation of the High Court into the commercial, civil and criminal divisions where he eventually became the head of the commercial division of the Kuala Lumpur High Court. He also cites this endeavour as the reason he became a judge. Prior to specialisation, High Court judges handled all matters, civil and criminal.
From a logistical point of view, even the way in which lawyers prepare for court has changed dramatically. In the 1960s and 1970s, lawyers carried physical copies of law journals into court with multiple copies required at the appellate level for all the judges. This practice is almost unheard of today as cases are sourced from electronic databases or photocopied from physical journals and compiled into bundles of authorities.
With more than 60 years of legal experience and a great penchant for storytelling, Tan Sri V.C. George offers a rare and colourful account, full of wit and humour of legal practice and the profession as it was then to what it is now.
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