Harry Elias: Top legal eagles pay tribute to a law icon for his contributions, character and courtcraft

SINGAPORE : Law leaders have weighed in on the death of Senior Counsel Harry Elias, extolling the icon for his contributions, character and courtcraft.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said he represented “some of the best and most important qualities of our profession.”

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam added in a Facebook tribute that SC Elias was an icon whose death marked “a passing of a generation”.

SC Elias died on Wednesday (Aug 26) in hospital, aged 83, and his funeral was held at the Jewish Cemetery in Choa Chu Kang on Thursday afternoon.

He was among Singapore’s best-known trial lawyers and the founder of one of Singapore’s leading law firms, Harry Elias Partnership.

He was also the founding chairman of the Law Society’s Criminal Legal Aid Scheme in 1985, regarded widely as his enduring legacy.

CJ Menon, who turns 58 this year, told The Straits Times that although SC Elias was many years his senior, he had the privilege of interacting with SC Elias quite extensively in the last 30 years.

“We were on opposite sides in some cases, and I appeared before him in arbitration proceedings and he appeared before me in court. In all these interactions, Harry was uniformly kind, considerate and a complete gentleman.

“He was always genial and always able to bring some cheer into every tense situation. He was scrupulously fair in all his dealings whether as counsel or as an adjudicator and in this, he represented some of the best and most important qualities of our profession.”

CJ Menon paid tribute to SC Elias’ love for the profession and its mission of bringing justice to all.

” He was instrumental in establishing the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme more than 30 years ago. This has grown from strength to strength and stands among the Law Society’s proudest crowning achievements. I shall miss Harry very much and I extend my deepest condolences to his family and colleagues in practice.”

Law Minister K Shanmugam said he ” was a much sought-after lawyer.”

“As a person, he was a gem of a man, larger than life, the life and soul of any meeting, party, gathering in and out of court; he was a gentleman, known for his dry wit and disarming charm,” he added in a Facebook tribute on Thursday.

Mr Shanmugam, who first met Mr Elias in 1984 when he was a law pupil and the latter “a much storied lawyer,” said he did some work for Mr Elias and over time both became friends

They kept in touch over the past 36 years even as they went through different experiences and met occasionally.

“Large footprints, a man you would never forget once you met him. You will find many who will have wonderful things to say about him, and hardly anyone with anything negative to say about him.

“Harry was declining the last few times that I saw him. But his passing is still a shock.

“A man who made an impact on my life and whom I can never forget. The legal profession is poorer for the loss,” said Mr Shanmugam.

Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, said: “He was one of our greats – with a big booming voice, and rapier sharp as he did battle in court. He was often in the headlines , his clients a list of who’s who.”

SC Elias, one of her first bosses when she joined law firm Drew & Napier as a legal assistant in 1988, “never failed to teach.”

She added: “Harry had a good heart and a zest for life, a wonderful enthusiasm that was both infectious and uplifting. He also had tremendous wit and a great sense of humour.

“His contributions and influence live on – in the firms he led, the lawyers he mentored, the outcomes of the cases he fought, the work he did in the Law Society and the leadership he provided as a senior member of the Bar.

“Goodbye, Harry. You will be dearly missed. But never forgotten.” she wrote in a Facebook post.

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