Tuesday, December 25, 2007

David Marshall: What is Justice?

Continuation of extracts from Alex Josey's The David Marshall Trails (Singapore: Times Books International, 1981) pages 246-7:

They found out about him pestering Mei-lin*. They were not surprised: in Johore, Bellows* had a reputation for manhandling girls whenever he had had a drop too much. He had been involved in several nasty fights over bargirls in some of the more disreputable night haunts.

Altogether they seemed to be plenty of evidence that Ah Tong* might have a good cause for assaulting Bellows but hardly enough to suggest murder. In any case was Ah Tong strong enough to swing a heavy parang (long sharp knife) with such murderous intent? It must have been a very determined blow that struck Bellows, a blow that needed considerable effort and strength. Hatred brings strength, sometimes. The evidence in the diary could not be ignored.

When the police told Ah Tong that they might have to arrest him in connection with Bellows' murder, two things happened very suddenly.

Firstly, a young man stepped forward and confessed to the murder. His name was Foo Chan*. Second, the village headman telephoned the Old Man's (David Marshall's) office to retain his services, "no matter what the cost", he said.

The Old Man hurried to the village, talked to the headman and to the young man who had confessed to killing Bellows.

Then the Old Man inspected the scene of the crime. He was puzzled by the young man's attitude. He seemed not the slightest bit worried. He had no remorse. When the Old Man asked him why he killed Bellows, the young man said, in translation, that he'd picked up the parang in the store, followed Bellows and struck him.

"Yes, yes," said the Old Man. "That was how you killed him. But why?"


"Yes, why did you kill him?"

For a moment Foo Chan hesitated. Then he said, as though remembering his lines in a play: "Oh yes. Because he was a bad man."

"That hardly seems sufficient reason for you to crease his skull with a parang." muttered the Old Man.

No man looked less like a murderer than Foo Chan. He did not look like a peasant. He looked more like a studious student, a research student. What was he doing in this village? His place was in the classroom, or a laboratory in a university, not in the padi fields. Short, plumb, gentle, he wore wore large spectacles, clean white shirt, creased white trousers. His nails were short and clean. Try as he could the lawyer could not visualise Foo Chan creeping up behind the taller Bellows and summoning enough rage and strength to plunge a parang into Bellow's head. He didn't look capable of swatting a fly.

The Old Man was experienced: he had defended many men accused of murder. Murder was usually a one-time affair, unpremeditated, emotion playing the predominant part. Most murderers look unlike the conception of a killer. But Foo Chan! He appeared entirely without emotion. He treated the Old Man with respect, having apparently no fear that in this man's hands rested his future existence. He sought no assurances. He seemed perfectly satisfied that he was in no danger.

The Old Man went back to the headman and told him that he could only take the case and defend the young man on the distinct understanding that Foo Chan permitted him to decide the method and form of defence. Willingly, the headman at once agreed. Any conditions the Old Man laid down would be faithfully carried out. The village had absolute confidence in him.

"You realise, of course, that if I fail, this young man will hang?"

"Because you are defending him, we know that he won't," replied the headman with a bland smile.

"Let us not carry trust too far," warned the Old Man, a little shaken.


*fictitious names but real persons

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