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The death of Malaysian-born lawyer Harinder Veriah in a Hong Kong hospital has sparked a collaboration between her former employer Lovells and her husband to support other young Malaysian lawyers.
The firm has pledged its support to the Harinder Veriah Trust in a move that will see Lovells employ young Malaysian lawyers from marginal backgrounds.
Veriah was born into a Sikh family in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. She practised law in Malaysia before moving to London with her husband, journalist Martin Jacques. After a 15-minute interview, Lovells partner Neil Fagan told her: “You’re a self-made woman.” And she got the job.
Veriah was seconded to the firm’s Hong Kong office in late 1998, but just one year later, on 2 January 2000, she suffered an epileptic fit and died in a Hong Kong hospital. Before she died, she told her husband she felt she was “at the bottom of the pile” at Ruttonjee Hospital because of her ethnicity.
Convinced that her death was the result of racism and “wilful neglect” in the hospital, Jacques embarked on a campaign for justice that continues today.
An inquest recorded death by natural causes, but made no reference to the racism claim. Veriah’s death, however, blew open the culture of silence surrounding racism in Hong Kong and spawned campaigns against racial discrimination that subsequently led to the Hong Kong parliament’s passing of anti-racism legislation.
While not strictly pro bono work, the trust is designed to offer support and City connections to young Malaysian lawyers from impoverished backgrounds. According to Jacques, it is globalisation in its most basic form.
The programme will see Lovells employ a young Malaysian lawyer from a non-privileged background in its London office for up to two years. The successful candidate will be employed as a normal fee-earner and paid in sterling at London market rates.
Candidates must be Malaysian citizens who have spent most of their life in Malaysia, and must have between two and six years’ experience.
The first of the Malaysian recruits, 31-year-old Murali Ramakrishnan, has joined the fraud and insolvency group in the firm’s London office. The son of a postman, Murali says of the trust: “It’s opened a lot of doors, which is incredible.”
The trustees are Jacques, senior Malaysian judge Justice Dato’ James Foong, the eminent Malaysian jurist Dato’ Mahadev Shankar and former president of the Malaysian Bar Council Hendon Mohamed.
According to Jacques, the trust is designed to offer those traditionally excluded from the City a chance to see life in an international law firm. “The City is supposed to be this great international place, but there are very few non-white lawyers or those who do not hark from elite backgrounds,” says Jacques.
Four years after her death, Veriah’s legacy remains. Anyone wanting to offer support to the trust should contact Martin Jacques at www.harinderveriah.com.