MALAYSIANS KINI How to commit the perfect murder was something New Sin Yew learned in his first ever law lecture, and it has had him hooked ever since. To law that is.
Speaking to Malaysiakini during an interview in April, the 27-year-old lawyer said it all began after he decided not to further his studies as an engineer, after which a family friend, the law dean of Help University, asked him to attend law lectures for two weeks.
"My first class was criminal law, and I was taught by this senior lawyer Kitson Foong.
“I still remember the first class; he was teaching how to commit the perfect murder.
"It was quite interesting and I have been hooked since," he said.
That class inspired New, who was born in Penang but raised in Kuala Lumpur, to pursue a law degree at Help, and did his final two years at Cardiff University in the UK.
He has since interned with former Chief Justice Zaki Azmi and helped the National Legal Aid Foundation make headway into giving legal representation for suspects under police detention.
A case like in the movies
New then joined Bon Advocates, where he achieved his happiest moment as a lawyer when clients Yazid Sufaat, Muhammad Hilmi Hasim, and Halimah Hussein, were acquitted at the High Court in 2013 on charges of promoting terrorism in Syria.
When the judge was reading out his decision, New and two other colleagues were a bit distracted but some words that the judge used had their ears perked.
“Suddenly the judge said something that was highly unusual. He was like, ‘I agree with the applicants’, and we were like ‘What is going on? I have not heard that word before’,” he said amid bouts of laughter.
He said the trio quickly realised the significance of what was happening, as High Court judge Kamardin Hashim ruled that the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) could not be used against their clients.
“The public gallery was dramatic. Seriously it was like Hollywood. [...] The prosecution, (if) you look at them, they were baffled. I suppose (losing) doesn’t happen often to them as well.
“Then you start to hear at the back of the dock, Yazid, Hilmi and Halimah starting to pray. The family members started crying, then finally the judge said “I order them to be discharged and released.’.
“They were celebrating but we (the lawyers) didn’t celebrate. Instead we were “Eh, we won?” he said, laughing at how amused they were by their victory.
‘Criminal law is so romantic’
But while this public litigation victory may be his happiest, New’s passion still lies in the romance of criminal law.
“(If) You are a lawyer, you must do some criminal matters; that is the thing you learn in law school. How can you be a lawyer and not do criminal matters? It’s so romantic. It's just so romantic.
“You don’t see lawyers in the movies or TV shows arguing about breach of contract case, drafting a contract, or doing conveyancing.
“People associate lawyers with criminal practice. Well, of course people also associate lawyers with devils, the lowest of the low, but people always associate lawyers with criminal law.
“There is just something very intrinsic about criminal law and lawyers, and that is why I still do criminal law. [...] There is a je ne sais quoi (intangible attraction) about defending somebody else’s life at liberty,” he said.
Moving forward, while the Bersih steering committee member has no long term goals of his own, the lawyer hopes the judiciary will become more liberal, and courageous in overturning bad or archaic laws that no longer suit this day and age.
“Now people are more aware of their rights. They’re more informed, they’re more educated, and they are starting to know that rights are important.
“I think the judiciary has begun to recognise that we are seeing more public interest cases succeeding in the courts than we have, say, a decade ago. That’s good progress but we must still keep going on,” New said.
‘Who needs heroes?’
Meanwhile, when asked who his role model was, New, who also contributes to the contemporary legal blog Loyar Burok quipped, “Jho Low.”
“I want to party with Paris Hilton on a yacht. I can’t see why anybody doesn’t want to do that.
“(I admire) Jho Low because I don’t know if it is true or not but if you’re on a yacht partying, you must have done something right in life or something terrible wrong,” he said amid more laughter.
On a more serious note though, New said he had no role models, and advised others against having them too.
“Why must we have heroes? We are our own heroes, everybody is a hero.
“Maybe that is the narcissist in me talking, the arrogance in me shining through, but no we don’t need role models,” he said.
MALAYSIANS KINI is a series on up-and-coming politicians and activists.