Who is Tommy Thomas?

MALAYSIA BAHARU

Who is Tommy Thomas?

The imbroglio over the appointment of a new Attorney General is exercising the minds of not only the legal fraternity but just about everyone else with a desire to see a new nation find its judicial balance.

Over the weekend, Malaysians were caught up with the news that the only name submitted by the Pakatan Harapan government for the post of the new Attorney General (AG) has not gone down well with the Malay rulers.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has confirmed that he has only submitted one name and that is of senior lawyer and constitution expert Tommy Thomas to the King.

News had leaked out that apparently the Council of Malay Rulers preferred a Malay candidate for the post

However, news had leaked out that apparently the Council of Malay Rulers preferred a Malay candidate for the post. Some contended that this is because part of the AG's job is also to advise the King on matters concerning Islam, which Thomas may not be able to carry out.

(Someone cheekily tweeted that Thomas is a different kind of Malay as he is of “Malay-alee descent”.)

The post is very important as the AG is the principal legal adviser to the Government of Malaysia and highest ranking public prosecutor in the country.

On a more serious note, the Malay rulers will be meeting over this issue of appointing the new AG tomorrow (Tuesday), as politicians from all sides bicker as to whether Thomas is the right man for the job.

There have been many queries as to who Thomas is and why he was chosen by members of the Pakatan Harapan government. Not many, apart from the legal fraternity know who this man Tommy Thomas is.

Thomas was called to the Bar on 3 June 1976 and has been practising since.

According to the profile on his legal firm's website, Thomas is widely regarded as a leading litigation lawyer in the country and is a barrister with an experience of more than 40 years standing.

He has also been cited by independent international publications such as The Asia Pacific Legal 500, Which Lawyer, Who’s Who Legal (The International Who’s Who of Business Lawyers), Commercial Litigation Lawyers of Asia and Chambers Asia.

“Thomas has had the privilege of appearing as counsel in landmark cases in various branches of the law in all the courts of Malaysia, including the Privy Council in London, which was Malaysia’s highest court until 1985."

He is also sought after by corporations and commercial sphere for his expertise on corporate legal matters.

He had also represented Kelantan and Terengganu state governments in their case seeking oil royalty from Petronas and the Federal Government

"Thomas has appeared in complex litigation involving bonds and other sophisticated financial instruments. In Public Law, Thomas specialises in constitutional and administrative law cases. He has also been very active in statutory interpretation disputes ranging from petroleum, asset management, securities law and local government,” stated the profile.

He had also represented Kelantan and Terengganu state governments in their case seeking oil royalty from Petronas and the Federal Government.

He was also a lead counsel for the Malaysian Bar in intricate and controversial cases.
Among the objections stated by those against Thomas taking the AG role is that he has openly condemned the ruling of the word “Allah” only for Muslims as well as criticised the Islamic authorities such as Selangor Religious Department of Islam (JAIS) on their overzealousness.

In an article in 2014, Thomas had then stated that “it is an absolute affront to Muslims to contend that Islam in Malaysia would be threatened because some Malay Bibles would be used by some Christians in some churches which contains the word Allah.”

He also stated that the decision by the courts to confine the usage of the word “Allah” to Muslims as not being constitutional.

Those who argue that race and religion should not matter in the appointment of the AG, point out that until 1963, Malaysia’s AGs were non-Malays. 

We've had non-Malay/Muslim Attorney-General until 1963. It was never an issue back then, so why should it be an issue now? 

The last non-Malay AG was Cecil M Sheridan.

“The race and religion of such candidate is not a legal factor to be considered. We've had non-Malay/Muslim Attorney-General until 1963. It was never an issue back then, so why should it be an issue now? 

"Those who are against having a non-Malay/Muslim as the Attorney-General are either ignorant or bigots, cause there's nothing in Article 145 of the Federal Constitution that stipulates that the post can only be held by someone of a certain ethnicity or religion,” said Amer, insisting he neither endorses nor objects to Thomas as AG.

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