Law fraternity pays glowing tributes to Harry Elias

This article is more than 12 months old

Local law giant Harry Elias, who became the founding chairman of the Law Society's Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) some 35 years ago, died on Wednesday. He was 83.

His wife Thelma, 73, said he died in hospital after a long illness.

Senior Counsel (SC) Elias was among Singapore's best-known trial lawyers and the founder of one of the country's leading law firms, Harry Elias Partnership.

Tributes have poured in, eulogising SC Elias for his lasting contributions, character and court craft. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said Mr Elias represented "some of the best and most important qualities of our profession".

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

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 was one of her first bosses when she joined Drew & Napier as a legal assistant in 1988. He "never failed to teach", she said.

Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran said Mr Elias's greatest legacy was in ensuring access to justice for the weakest in society, adding that the CLAS, which helps more than a thousand people each year, is the society's crown jewel.

The law firm's managing partner Philip Fong said SC Elias was "a trailblazer with lasting legacy".

Born in Singapore in 1937 and educated at St Andrew's School, Mr Elias went on to read law in London, graduating in 1963 and qualifying as a barrister at London's Middle Temple.

He never forgot the financial assistance he received from St Andrew's School, which facilitated his education there, and had been a supportive alumnus for decades.

Mr Elias started as a lawyer in Kuala Lumpur in 1965, and returned to Singapore in 1970, joining the firm Drew and Napier.

In 1988, he founded his own practice, Harry Elias and Partners, later renamed Harry Elias Partnership.

He also served as Law Society president between 1984 and 1986.

Mr Elias is survived by his daughter and her husband, a granddaughter, and two stepchildren.

Mr Elias' funeral was held yesterday afternoon at the Jewish Cemetery in Choa Chu Kang.