Cecil Abraham has 50 years of practice and over 300 reported decisions. He is regarded as one of Malaysia’s leading counsel. His practice covers corporate and commercial, environment, banking and securities, insurance and competition law and arbitration. He is regularly appointed as arbitrator in domestic and international arbitrations and is the only Malaysian to be appointed in investment treaty disputes.
In 2020 you celebrated 50 years of practice in dispute resolution. What is your secret to remaining highly effective counsel?
I have a strong passion for the law. I need to ensure that I am up to date, not only in terms of Malaysian law, but also of legal developments in other jurisdictions.
When preparing for cases I ensure I am well versed with all the primary documents, whether it is for a trial or an appeal. I master the facts and the law.
One also has to be disciplined and mentally sharp and healthy in order to withstand the rigours of litigation.
How has your experience in arbitration proceedings enhanced your litigation practice? What are the different skill sets required between the two disciplines?
My experience in arbitration has assisted my litigation skills in terms of structuring of legal arguments, case presentation, both written and oral, and in having a better understanding of the bench. It has enhanced my appreciation of what a judge requires in litigation.
In the context of arbitration, one has to be flexible and open to ideas. There is less rigidity in the process when contrasted with litigation. Arbitrations are usually document intensive and hence cross-examination can be limited. In international arbitrations, one has to be aware of cultural sensitivities as well as the common law/civil law divide, which requires a different skill set compared to litigation.
You have represented high-profile clients in proceedings, such as the former Prime Minister of Singapore. What unique challenges do such cases present and how do you combat them?
I believe in giving clients clear and precise advice. The client may not like the advice, but one should not shirk this responsibility. This is the approach I have adopted in giving advice to high-profile individuals.
Do you think there is a shift towards arbitration to resolve disputes in Malaysia, and if so, why?
Arbitration is generally used in construction and infrastructure disputes. The Asian International Arbitration Centre is busy administrating principally disputes relating to the construction industry.
Commercial disputes are still generally resolved before the national courts rather than in arbitration.
Your legal expertise spans a wide variety of sectors and industries. How important as a litigator is it to maintain such a variety of expertise?
Having a diverse practice area helps to ensure that as an advocate one is well rounded in terms of knowledge of the law and understanding of the industry.
It is important to keep abreast of what is transpiring in the various sectors and industries as that would improve one’s negotiation skills and also help to provide the building blocks so that one can handle complex disputes. Specialisation is important to a degree. In my view, having a varied practice helps one to be a sound and rounded litigator.
In what ways is litigation funding impacting practice in Malaysia? What opportunities and challenges do you think it presents litigators like yourself?
Litigation funding is not permitted in Malaysia in so far as litigation and arbitration are concerned. It remains to be seen whether legislation will be introduced to allow for litigation funding.
You have enjoyed a very distinguished career as one of Malaysia’s foremost litigators. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
My one regret is not having accepted the opportunity to be a judge. I would have liked to have contributed to the development of Malaysian jurisprudence if I had an opportunity to sit as a judge. I am of the view that so long as I continue to practise law or sit as an arbitrator, my aim is to contribute to the development of law and in that sense my journey is not complete.
What, in your opinion, does the future of the litigation in Malaysia look like?
Malaysians have become more litigious. The national courts are inundated with cases which are increasingly more complex. There is therefore a need for highly qualified and diligent advocates. The issue is whether the current educational framework in Malaysia is able to deliver such individuals.
Litigation in Malaysia in view of the covid-19 situation, and moving forward as part of the new “normal”, requires advocates to be technologically savvy. Advocates will need to be able to conduct video hearings effectively and possess the necessary skills of mastering electronic bundles, as well as cross-examination of witnesses remotely. There have been recent amendments to our Rules of Court 2012, which pertain to the conduct of hearings remotely. Sole practitioners, of which there are many in Malaysia, may struggle to adapt to these changes. The costs of purchasing relevant technology may be prohibitive to some sole practitioners. However, larger litigation firms should be able to adapt to these technological requirements. These are but some of the challenges that litigation practitioners in Malaysia are likely to face in the coming years.
"Cecil is among Malaysia’s outstanding arbitration practitioners"
"He is one of the market’s best-known arbitrators"
"Cecil is viewed as Malaysia's leading international arbitrator"
Tan Sri Dato’ Cecil Abraham is the senior partner at Cecil Abraham & Partners. His career at the Bar spans 50 years. Within that time, he has appeared in all the High Court divisions, as well as before the Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, the Special Court and the Privy Council on a regular basis. He has over 270 reported decisions of note to his name. He is first and foremost an advocate, and is regarded by peers and clients alike as one of Malaysia’s leading counsel, known to be devastatingly effective in court. He has a strong reputation for dealing with complex disputes where the stakes are high and is known to work hard to achieve a satisfactory result for his clients.
As counsel, he has in recent times argued the leading cases in Malaysia concerning, for example, unjust enrichment, the doctrine of separate legal entities, equitable fraud, the powers of liquidators, the exercise of royal prerogative powers, and the applicable test relating to the setting-aside of an arbitration award under the Arbitration Act 2005, to name but a few.
He holds of the distinction of having acted for the former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, and several prime ministers of Malaysia.
He is also regularly appointed as an arbitrator in domestic and international commercial arbitrations, having sat in excess of 100 arbitrations, and is the only Malaysian to be regularly appointed as an arbitrator in investment treaty disputes.
Tan Sri Dato’ Cecil Abraham’s practice covers a wide breadth of areas, including corporate and commercial, environmental, banking and securities, insurance, maritime and competition law, as well as international arbitration.
Tan Sri Dato' Cecil Abraham is a "truly outstanding lawyer" who comes highly esteemed for his longstanding disputes practice spanning more than 50 years in the field.
Tan Sri Dato’ Cecil Abraham is senior partner at Cecil Abraham & Partners. He has 50 years of legal experience.
He has over 290 reported decisions of note. His peers and clients regard him as one of Malaysia’s leading counsel, known to be devastatingly effective in Court. He has a strong reputation and is very often the preferred choice for dealing with complex disputes where the stakes are high. He is known to work hard to achieve a satisfactory result for his clients.
Tan Sri Cecil Abraham’s practice covers a wide breadth of areas that includes corporate and commercial, environmental, banking and securities, insurance, shipping, and competition law as well as arbitration. He has in recent times argued the leading cases in Malaysia on unjust enrichment, the doctrine of separate legal entities, defamation and the law of reportage, enforcement of arbitration awards, the doctrine of non-delegable duty of care in the context of medical negligence claims, the applicable procedure to adjudication claims in the construction industry and the exercise of royal prerogative powers, to name but a few.
Tan Sri Cecil Abraham is an advisory member of the International Council of Commercial Arbitration (ICCA) Governing Board and a panel arbitrator of institutions such as ICSID, SIAC, HKIAC and AIAC, to name but a few.
Tan Sri Cecil Abraham graduated with an LLB (Honours) from Queen Mary College, University of London and was called to the English Bar. He was admitted to the Malaysian Bar in February 1970. He is a fellow of Queen Mary College, University of London, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators UK, the Malaysian Institute of Arbitrators, the Singapore Institute of Arbitrators and the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration. He is a chartered arbitrator and also a Bencher of Middle Temple.
He is regularly appointed as arbitrator in domestic and in international commercial and is the only Malaysian to sit as arbitrator in investment treaty arbitrations.