Vinayak Prabhakar Pradhan

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” Gandhi

Humble and extraordinary. Understated and exceptional. Vinayak Prabhakar Pradhan. A friend, colleague and mentor.

Vinayak had an illustrious school life. He was the School Captain of the Victoria Institution. He loved his sport, was the school cricket captain and played hockey. He has been known to have hit a six from the Dataran Merdeka cricket ground that sailed over the protective fence and bounced just in front of a passing motorcyclist on Jalan Raja! He certainly did not believe in half measures.

In his own gentle way, Vinayak shook our world.

Vinayak was one of the first seniors I met when I walked into the then Skrine and Co. He influenced and impacted my professional life and the lives of all those who worked with him as we grew up in the firm. Vinayak was always accessible to all of us. He valued all views no matter whether they came from seniors or juniors. He did not discriminate between one person and the next and he never talked down to anyone. The lawyers in his department quickly became his friends and they have described his leadership as inspirational. There is no doubt that his skills in leadership and team building were informed by his experience as school captain and his love for sports.

“Be scrupulously honest. Uphold your duty to your client. Know that your duty is first to the Court. Be courteous and professional with your colleagues at the Bar. Your word is your bond.” These constant reminders from Vinayak would ring in our ears as we grew up in the firm. He deemed it almost insulting and unnecessary for any lawyer to write and confirm a conversation with him, once he had given his word. He was the consummate professional and was a proud member of the Bar. His strong moral compass and integrity were unquestionable.

Vinayak always encouraged the lawyers in the firm to support the Malaysian Bar and its activities. He urged all lawyers to attend and participate in Bar meetings and to vote in the Bar Council elections. However, he never tried to influence the views we expressed at meetings nor how we voted. In fact, he was vehement that each lawyer must make their own choices even if they differed from others in the firm, including the partners.

Vinayak’s passion for reading extended to the great prose and poetry of the English language and included diverse authors. His colleagues who worked with him would often have discussions with him on some of these great works. He loved the theatre and even dabbled in stage performances. Nitin Nadkarni was one of those who often had literary discussions with him and he recalled that Vinayak had acted in the challenging role of the Common Man in Robert Bolt’s “Man For All Seasons”. Kamraj Nayagam recalled that his favourite poet was Auden. We will never forget the ease with which he would recite poetry appropriate to a particular occasion as we all watched and listened in awe.

It has been said that there is a positive connection between prose, poetry and the law, each one harmoniously enhancing the other. Vinayak proves that theory as he represented precisely that harmony in his thought process, advocacy and interactions with others.

I have no doubt that his love of sports, literature and poetry with his incisive legal mind made Vinayak a phenomenal advocate and in my view one of the best in the country. I have seen him appear before some of the judicial giants of the day and there is no doubt, he was held in high esteem by them. His clarity of thought, language, and commitment to the law and justice made him a formidable but fair opponent.

In 1988 Vinayak was part of a team of lawyers representing the five then Supreme Court judges who had been suspended in what is now known as the 1988 Judicial Crisis. That members of the highest court in the land reposed their trust in him speaks volumes for Vinayak.

Thus, I was a little disappointed when he moved to arbitration as I considered it a loss to our firm’s court practice. However, true to form, Vinayak took the arbitration world by storm. As I said, he did not believe in half measures. If he undertook something, he did it well.

In 2016, he became the first recipient of the “Arbitrator of the year Award” by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (Malaysia Branch). In his citation, the Singapore Chief Justice Mr Sundaresh Menon gave him this ringing endorsement:

“In the course of my career at the Bar, I acted as counsel in many arbitrations. I therefore have had the opportunity to appear before a fair number of arbitrators from many parts of the world. With the benefit of this perspective, I have no hesitation in saying that I personally rate Vinayak among the very finest of them.”

Whilst Vinayak excelled in everything that he undertook, it never went to his head and he never lost “the common touch”. In fact, a quality I deeply admired in Vinayak was the complete absence of envy or jealously in his character. He was always quick to acknowledge and praise the successes of others, beaming with pride as if the achievement were his own. Yet, when it came to his own successes, he was reluctant to even mention them.

The other quality that I admired in Vinayak was his ability to always see the positive side of any situation or person. A man who saw the glass half full, he did not indulge in gossip or in berating anyone but always tried to fairly see both sides of a situation or argument.

Vinayak held several local and international positions that did us proud.

He was, (to name but a few), the global President of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in 2013, and a Commissioner with the United Nations Compensation Commission from 1998 to 2003. In 2009, Vinayak headed the Task Force enquiring into the massive cost overruns in the Port Kelang Free Zone. He was also a member of the Prime Minister’s special Task Force in respect of the same Project. He contributed to the international sports community when he was appointed one of the 6 ad hoc judges by the Court of Arbitration of Sport in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.

His membership of the EAIC (The Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission) from 2011 to October 2017 saw courageous reports on the troubling deaths in custody cases like the cases of Syed Mohamad Azlan and N. Damodaran. The commission resoundingly found the police officers responsible for their torture and death.

Vinayak was an only child. He lost his mother when he was just 8 years old. He lived with his father in a supportive and loving home. His father passed on in 1978 after he saw Vinayak qualify as a lawyer.

Then in 1981 Varsha came into his life and changed it forever. They married in 1982 and were best friends and soulmates. His life was complete when his two children, Avinash and Anisha arrived. Vinayak had the family he long missed and yearned for. He was a devoted and loyal husband and father and was immensely proud of his family, and for good reason. They were a team. One can see so much of Vinayak in his children who are doing him and Varsha proud every single day.

Vinayak was also deeply loyal to his friends and he loved being surrounded by them. If you were going to Vinayak’s house for a function you could never contemplate leaving early as Vinayak would never allow it. Both he and Varsha plied you with food and drink and we have fond memories of those times.

No one is perfect. Neither was Vinayak. But, for some reason I cannot even remember his faults. There was just too much good to remember about him. For many of his friends and for his family, he was larger than life.

Despite all the challenges that he faced in his life, in particular with his health, Vinayak never complained. He did not allow these challenges to define his life, his family’s life or his work life. Working, socialising and being the storyteller till the very end, he lived his life on his own terms. He never spoke of regrets. He went just as he came. At peace with the world.

How Vinayak felt about God or religion I cannot say. However, I will say this. He fought the good fight. He did his duty and he fulfilled his dharma.

Vinayak Prabhakar Pradhan lived a truly worthy life.

Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan


Vinayak Pradhan epitomised the best values of a member of the Malaysian Bar: the pursuit of justice, fair play, independence and principled leadership. He was admitted as an Advocate and Solicitor of the High Court of Malaya in 1974, and over a 45-year career became the undoubted star and doyen of the Arbitration Bar. His loyalty to Skrine & Co. was matchless; serving as pupil, legal assistant, partner and consultant, spanning his entire professional career.

I met Vinayak in 1964 when I enrolled in Victoria Institution. Although then only in Form 3, he was already well known for his leadership qualities. He was appointed not only School Cricket Captain, but also School Captain in 1968, a truly prestigious position in a school at its zenith, not only in Malaysia, but regionally. Vinayak read law at the University of Singapore, and represented it at the Jessop Moots in the United States. Vinayak’s forensic skills were honed in public speaking and debates from his early childhood, blossoming from the start of his career with Skrine & Co. under the outstanding talents of Stanley Peddie and Peter Mooney.

The first decade of his practice saw Vinayak in the court-rooms: from the humble Magistrate’s to the Federal Court. Vinayak was an articulate barrister, always thoroughly prepared and eminently fair and courteous to the Bench and his fellow barristers. Vinayak was likeable, approachable, warm and friendly. Perhaps the highlight of his early career was representing Justice Wan Sulaiman, one of the 5 Judges who was suspended and subsequently dismissed from office in the notorious Judicial Scandal of 1988.

It was Stanley Peddie who introduced Vinayak to the world of arbitration in the early 1980’s. Peddie was the pioneer in Malaysia in this developing branch of the law, with arbitration slowly making its appearance as an alternative forum for dispute resolution. Vinayak was always grateful for the guidance he received from Peddie. But Vinayak took the arbitration practice of Skrine & Co to another level, making it the most advanced in the land.

Vinayak’s weighty contributions to the international arbitration community were recognised by notable appointment by his peers across the globe. Thus, Vinayak was the global President of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in 2013. He was appointed a Commissioner with the United Nations Compensation Commission from 1998 to 2003 sitting on a corporate entities’ construction and engineering claims panel making recommendations for the compensation due from Iraq as a result of the invasion of Kuwait and related events. Vinayak was appointed by the Court of Arbitration of Sport as one of the 6 ad hoc judges empanelled to deal with disputes arising out of the 2014 – 17th. Asian Games, Incheon, South Korea.

In 2016, Vinayak became the first recipient of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, Malaysia Branch, Arbitrator of the Year. In presenting this Award to him, Sundraresh Menon, himself a distinguished personality in the world of arbitration and Chief Justice of Singapore, praised Vinayak in these laudatory terms: –

“I therefore have had the opportunity to appear before a fair number of arbitrators from many parts of the world. With the benefit of this perspective, I have no hesitation in saying that I personally rate Vinayak among the very finest of them. From the perspective of an advocate, having Vinayak on the tribunal is the best one could hope for. He is a careful and engaged listener, an extremely smart lawyer, has superb temperament, follows every argument that is put to him and does all this with the most admirable courtesy, patience and humour.

The award that is presented to Vinayak Pradhan today is to recognise his work as an outstanding Malaysian arbitrator. It is right that Malaysia should claim Vinayak Pradhan as one of its most illustrious sons, but may I say that the award would be equally appropriate and deserved if it were simply an award recognising him as an outstanding arbitrator. The point simply is that no geographic limits can or should constrain our recognition of the fine work of one of the greatest lawyers from our part of the world.

Vinayak Pradhan is a true titan of the Asian legal fraternity, in the realm of arbitration and even beyond.”

Cricket was inseparable from Vinayak. He represented the Malaysian Bar for decades, and was always in demand as Captain.

On the cricket pitch and in on his feet as Counsel, Vinayak stood out for astute leadership and fair play, qualities he learnt and displayed as a school-boy – which followed him throughout his life and legal practise. If the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, Vinayak’s virtues as a fair and deep-thinking lawyer were nurtured on the cricket pitch of his beloved Victoria Institution.

Anyone with even an elementary knowledge of team games will accept that being a captain of a cricket team (as opposed to, say, football or hockey) imposes the greatest responsibility among team captains. Decisions have to be made by the minute: indeed, sometimes within seconds. Vinayak thrived at an early age at such decision-making. He was a thinking and reflective captain, as he was a lawyer and arbitrator.

Another virtue was playing fair, and in the spirit of the game. Although winning was critical one could not cheat. Foul methods were prohibited. Means mattered as much as ends. Vinayak was an exemplary sportsman: a cricketer par excellence which he carried on in legal practise.

Finally, as a true sportsman, Vinayak enjoyed the fellowship at the Bar after every game and after most hearings. Beer, whiskey or gin flowed, and friendly banter with the opposition. Friendship and camaraderie at their best.

Vinayak’s sense of public duty was best displayed when as Attorney General, I spoke to him on a few occasions on 21 November 2018 to accept the post as Acting Director of AIAC in order to restore its image. Initially, he was opposed to leaving his comfortable and lucrative perch, but after much coaxing, agreed to serve the public. Vinayak quickly restored the battered image of AIAC, and despite his poor health, provided magnificent leadership. The Cabinet had no hesitation in appointing Vinayak as Director of AIAC.

We miss Vinayak. He was a wonderful asset to the Bar; indeed, to the nation. May his manifold contributions inspire young lawyers to aspire for the very best.

Tan Sri Tommy Thomas


And from his team :-

“I was extremely lucky to have had Vinayak as my pupil master who, in my opinion, was the finest advocate of his time. He was a great boss and mentor. I owe my achievements in legal practice to him.”Lam Wai Loon


Cricket and whiskey were amongst his many interests. Cared about those who crossed his path. Missing him.Sanjay Mohanasundram


Vinayak or VP or Boss as he was fondly referred to in the then Construction Unit once told me when I was still a student that a good lawyer should be like a good doctor but instead of healing a patient’s medical ailments, a lawyer must resolve a client’s legal ailments. I remember that moment as clearly as it was yesterday. And all this said in his wonderful Richard Burton timbred voice – Audrey Choo


Vinayak was remarkable for many reasons- his brilliant advocacy, his sharp intellect and wit, his sense of fun (and at times, child-like wonder) but most of all, his unshakable integrity and unmatched kindness to all despite his accomplishments. An unforgettable human being.Lay Theng


I had the privilege of working with Vinayak in Skrine for 18 years. He was an inspirational team leader, if not always the most organized nor systematic. But to work with him required (literally) a strong stomach: once he (eventually) started working on a matter, he kept on, largely disregarding sleep and wholly disregarding solid sustenance. There was a lot of laughter involved in working with Vinayak, and he never took the view that his client came to him wearing a halo, nor that the other side was inevitably the incarnation of evil. Underneath the laughter was an unfailing moral code, though seldom expressed in judgment of his fellow man. I consider myself blessed to have seen him in action so often, to have worked with him for so long, and most of all to have been his friend Kamraj Nayagam.


An invaluable friend and mentor. May we meet againDaniel Tan.


Vinayak is more than a man of eloquence, wit and a literary buff, for most of us he is also a blessing. Every moment with him leaves a permanent positive footprint in one’s life. His impactful advice moves one in the right direction in moments of doubt and confusion, his gentle words heal one in direction of recovery in moments of pain and suffering. Vinayak would chastise us if we were to be sad over his departure as he would want us continue to live our lives with our memories of him inspiring and moving us to live a better life.Dato’ Lim Chee Wee


Mr. Pradhan was one of the legendary counsels that every lawyer would know, particularly those in the ADR community. While I did not know Mr. Pradhan personally, I bumped into him once many years ago while visiting Skrine, and he has shown that he does not mind mingling with junior lawyers. I am indebted for all his contributions to the legal profession and I am honoured to know him in my time of legal practice. May his soul rest in peace. – James Ding Tse Wen

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