Our little adventure to Malaya began with much excitement, as my learned friend (and senior counsel for the proceedings) Mr Kevin Cheng had defaulted on his appearance at the rather dubious little commercial complex at which we were to begin our physical transposition towards the Federal territory of Kuala Lumpur. Fortunately, due to ingenuous bureaucratic obstacles posed by the immigration authorities at Tuas, my learned friend was able to make it there before we crossed the fingerprinting machines, striding in on us in the hall in his fashionable stormtrooper boot (which you can no doubt see in photographs of him from this adventure) as we frantically awaited his arrival. After some explaining to the rather suspicious driver of the machine we were making use of for the movement, Mr Cheng was finally reunited with his comrades.
The actual vehicular ambulation to Malaya was a mix of sheer panic and fitful slumber, as my learned friend Kok Yee Keong was in his element as advocatus diaboli, throwing the moot’s speakers into a frenzy. In between overpriced burgers (which Vice-President Matthew Reuben Yeo (hereinafter “Mattben”) complained bitterly over) and the seductive voices of the members of Kalafina (pouring through my cheap earphones), it was a long, but not unpleasant journey. (It helped that we occupied half the upper deck of the bus with just six people.) Reaching the Federal territory way past schedule (as our driver seemed to be living in an alternative dimension where time dilation was highly significant), we then had our licences unceremoniously terminated and were evicted at a location that was not what we had contracted for. Apparently the destination was to be determined at the discretion of the said driver, but that point was neither flagged with a little Denningesque red hand, nor did we have access to mandamus in the circumstances. So we got off like little sheep and dragged our personal property over the potholed streets of the Federal territory, bravely risking certain death at the rubber parts of high-speed gasoline-fired contraptions controlled by individuals with a surfeit of haste. In this trek towards Berjaya Times Square (our rendezvous point with our hosts from the University of Malaya) we had the able assistance of our enthusiastic and very buff friend and freshman, Eddee Peh.
After a successful rendez-vous with our hosts (led by Mathew, the UM Moot Club president and Edmund from their version of the Lawclub), who with extreme patience and fortitude awaited our arrival, we proceeded to our temporary residence – a fellow’s suite of rooms. In a females’ dormitory block. We therefore had the dubious honour of being the only (six) males in a complex teeming with young women. Fortunately or unfortunately, exhausted utterly by the lateral transposition on a slow-moving machine, we were not too concerned with that as we were craving for victual and some sleep. After some starts and stops, the little vehicles in which we were riding (piloted expertly by our hosts, who deftly dodged missiles several times) arrived at a truly extraordinary eating place filled with ravenous individuals at 1 in the morning. Mattben and Samuel, an intrepid freshman who repudiated his [contracted] contract lecture to be with us on our quest to defend the honour of NUS, were utterly shocked at the immense mound of yellow carbohydrates that a mere RM4.00 gained them dominion over. I was happy to assist them in the cleanup work. After thoroughly satiating (and exhausting us – an ingenious plot, perhaps?), our hosts drove us back to our residence, where I collapsed into a very small sofa and lost consciousness. My learned friend Kevin Cheng was not so lucky, as he had a ghostly encounter at around 4 in the morning in the midst of his preparation when a disembodied voice called out to him in the quasi-darkness, “Still awake arh?” [It turned out that the voice resembled very much that of our friend Yee Keong.]
After some excitement (which included, inter alia, a printing shop and Yee Keong screaming bloody murder over unequal treatment vis-a-vis some meat), we were finally on our way to our rendezvous with destiny – the match against our worthy opponents of the University of Malaya. To put things in some context, the moot participants (Messrs Ivan Chung & Eugene Ee as speakers, Misses Vivian Yeow and Pauline Low as researchers) from Malaya endured a punishing internal moot and PREVAILED for just the opportunity to meet a man with a beat-up leg and fashionable footwear (viz Kevin Cheng) and an eccentric who can’t seem to get enough of Krispy Kreme doughnuts (your humble correspondent here) before a rostrum quibbling about things totally incomprehensible to a full 98% of the human population. In particular, Mr Eugene Ee is a veteran of this competition, having faced off our learned seniors David Fong and Cherrylene Lee last year), so we the representatives of NUS were pitted against the very best that Malaya could offer – a great honour. Nonetheless, with a continuous streak of victories to defend, Kevin Cheng and I swallowed our fears and doubts and headed off to the challenge.
The topic of the moot concerned the clash between the ‘right’ to privacy and the right to freedom of expression. An extremely wealthy man living in a sprawling estate had photographs of a salesman demonstrating to him the use of a device used to alleviate a very embarrassing male disability taken by a paparazzi, who promptly sold it to the tabloids. The poor tycoon sued on the basis of breach of confidence and invasion of privacy. As the away team, we represented the respondent paparazzi (who was utterly devoid of moral merit), and our opponents the sad tycoon. The law was on our side, but public policy and fundamental notions of morality were not. Therefore, Kevin Cheng and I adopted a legalistic approach to the problem, focusing on distinguishing English and Malaysian cases adverse to our position, and holding the line through arguments of judicial competence and separation of powers. Our learned opponents came at us with the weight of Commonwealth authority and morality. It would have been a miracle for us to prevail. To raise the stakes, a significant number of UM students turned up to watch our contest. The pressure was on.
The contest itself passed by in a blur. Out of respect for our Malaysian friends, we adopted the Malaysian style of address, i.e. ‘my Lord(s)’ or ‘my Lady’ when addressing the bench directly in the vocative case, and ‘your Lordship/Ladyship(s)’ when referring to the bench in the nominative, genitive, dative or accusative cases. [Perhaps the Malayans would adopt our simpler convention next year?] (We did not have wigs or gowns, though.) The presiding bench comprising (INSERT NAMES) and our own Professor Kumaralingam Amirthalingam began their attack in earnest upon our Malaysian friends (who went first as the appellants). Throughout the barrage, Kevin and I scrambled to prepare ourselves for when it would be our turn. Before long it was my turn before the distinguished panel, who immediately took issue with my insistence that Parliament should have the final say on the balance between privacy and freedom of speech (remember, kids – if you go for a moot, never say that a court has no authority to do anything, no matter how desperate your case may seem. A court will find itself without authority to do something only when it feels like dismissing the claim anyway. Ubi ius, ibi remedium, folks!). With the benefit of able instruction from our most learned public law instructors, Kevin and I managed to use constitutional arguments to stand our ground, but it was clear that the bench was not with us on our arguments. After a surrebuttal (which included a point on customary international law!) everybody in the auditorium (which doubled as a moot court) cleared out for the judges to make their decision.
After some obligatory camerawork, we returned to receive the judges’ verdict. To our surprise, the judges announced that both teams won. UM had won the case, and NUS won the competition. It was a great collective sigh of relief that came from the six of us as we realised that the title consistently defended by NUS had not been lost on our watch. It was also a great personal (and perhaps undeserved) honour that the judges decided that the Best Oralist prize be awarded to me. In sum, our victory, while incomplete (as we had lost on the law), was sufficient to vindicate the excellence of our Legal Analysis, Writing and Research programme (freshmen! You will thank LAWR for years to come!). In appreciation of their efforts in hosting the moot and the six of us, Professor Kumaralingam on behalf of NUS and the Mooting and Debating Club presented Mathew David Anak of the UM Moot Club with a plaque.
After the contest our Malayan hosts brought us around their campus, where we were struck by the advantages a relatively flat piece of land can confer on an educational institution (unlike our obsession with hilltops and convoluted architectural design exemplified by the FASS building). After much activity for the CMOS sensor in Yee Keong’s possession, we retired briefly to the residence to prepare for the activities to follow.
As post-competition festivities, our Malayan hosts brought us to the massive entertainment complex called the Sunway Pyramid, where our learned Vice-President Mattben and the ever-enthusiastic freshmen displayed in full glory their skills on the ice-skating rink, dazzling not only our hosts but also the captive audience (slight embellishment acknowledged). The elders (Kevin, myself and Yee Keong) just sipped our stimulant-laced drinks as watched as we relaxed after the gruelling contest earlier. By a remarkable coincidence, it was St Patrick’s Day, and so the entire contingent went off to a famous district for aqueous ethanol (the name of which I did not catch), I was sad that they had run out of hats for the occasion, but the others had a merry time with the abundance of absurdly inexpensive supplies of fermented wheat juice. Rounding off the day at a 24-hour prata place (where we learn that the Malaysians call the flat oily fried dough simply ‘roti’ and that they served ‘Singapore-style rojak’ – whatever that meant), we were only too happy to collapse into our sleeping implements, in anticipation of our return the following day.
Before leaving for Singapore, where (figurative) mountains of work, we went to Berjaya Times Square, where many of us (including myself) acquired vast quantities of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Laden with our loot, fond memories of Malaya with our indefatigably hospitable hosts (and joy at not having failed NUS), we headed home on a generally uneventful journey (where Mattben did not have the opportunity to be scammed over a burger). Thus concludes our little weekend expedition.
Gratitude to everyone involved in the process from start to finish – which definitely includes the long-suffering President of the Mooting and Debating Club Ms Vinna Yip and Associate Professor Lim Lei Theng, who drafted the moot problem! See you next year, Malaya (but this time on our little hill)!
Article contributed by: Alan Koh (Law 2)
Photography by: Kok Yee Keong (Law 2)