KUALA LUMPUR: History was made on Monday (Sep 30) when a Malaysian lawyer, Mr Steven Suppiah Perian, became the first Queen’s Counsel (QC) to be admitted to the High Court of Malaya.
The significant moment was a dream come true for the 57-year-old, who was born to a blue-collar family in the Indian enclave of Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur and worked his way up to the coveted rank.
“Coming from a poor family, I knew growing up that I wanted to do law,” he said, adding that he was the first in his extended family to pursue the highly regarded profession.
His parents had big dreams for him, with his father remarking on several occasions that it was his dream to see his son practise in Malaysia.
Mr Steven Suppiah, who left for England when he was 21 to study law and has remained there since, proved that financial constraint was not an excuse when one has the will to achieve his goal.
“The one thing I did not want to do was become a nobody,” he said of his journey that led him to his achievements.
Mr Steven Suppiah took a bank loan to pay for his first-year as an external student for the University of London and worked part-time to support himself.
“On weekends, when many of my Malaysian classmates went out and had fun, I was either at the library or working.
“I worked and worked and by the time I reached my third year, I was able to pay for my own education and later for the Bar (exams),” he recounted.
Bar Council immediate past president George Varughese, who was the mover of Mr Steven Suppiah’s admission to the Bar, said the QC was not born with a silver spoon but his family - although not rich in income - was rich in spirit.
"From what I understand, for now Steven will continue his practice in England. However, if at some point if he chooses to practise in Malaysia, he will be an asset.
"This is because I believe Steven would be able to impart his vast knowledge and expertise to both his clients and the Malaysian Bar," said Mr Varughese.
WHAT IS A QUEEN'S COUNSEL?
Over the years following his graduation, Mr Steven Suppiah worked in the Crown Prosecution Service, which prosecutes criminal cases in England and Wales.
Having worked on countless high-profile cases – one of which was the biggest fraud trial in England involving US$2.3 trillion – he was made a QC in London in 2016.
A QC, colloquially referred to as “silk” because of the silk gown one wears, is a barrister or advocate who is appointed by the monarch to be “Her Majesty’s counsel learned in the law”.
According to Mr Steven Suppiah, the coveted title of the QC is granted only to a lawyer who is able handle the most complex of cases.
“The most complex murders, double murders, complex frauds. To be able to see through things in a way that cannot easily be seen and to be able to move the case to a tune that would be significantly different otherwise,” he said.
“In order to take silk, you need 12 judges to say you are very, very good. You have to be excellent in five areas which include oral and written advocacy, diversity, understanding and using the law, integrity, as well as working with others," he added.
The application process to be a QC included a 90-page application form, which applicants need to present evidence-based criteria on why they qualify for the title.
Mr Steven Suppiah, who is also part of a panel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, shared that he only succeeded in his third application.
Armed with this honourable title, Mr Steven Suppiah set out to chase a dream he has always harboured – to be part of the Malaysian Bar.
Among the challenges he faced were bureaucracy and getting fluent in Bahasa Malaysia again, but on Monday, he ticked this item off his bucket list with his wife Mdm Sueli Steven by his side.
"When it comes to Steven, I am merely a mistress. His profession is his first wife," she said in jest.
“This has been a long-time dream for him. Knowing how much this means to him and being here to witness this day with him is a wonderful feeling,” she added.
Mr Murali Menon, who is the pupil master of Mr Steven Suppiah in Malaysia, said he is a hardworking man who wanted to challenge boundaries.
"He is dedicated and disciplined and I know he would make it wherever he goes,” he said, adding that Mr Steven Suppiah has now paved the way for practitioners returning to Malaysia.
For Mr Steven Suppiah, the admission to Malaysian Bar meant he could come back to his home country and be a role model to others.
“It does not matter where you come from, as long as you stick to what you want to do with determination.
“My admission to the Malaysian Bar is a way of saying that I have made it in another country and I have made Malaysia proud. At the moment in terms of Queen’s Counsel in Malaysia, I am the only one,” he said.