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Rhodes scholar 2020 Ong June Han (second from left) with her family at her graduation ceremony at the University of Warwick, England.

Another Malaysian has been awarded the Rhodes Scholarship for Malaysia under Yayasan Khazanah for 2020.

Besides University of Pennsylvania student Nurul Ezzaty Hasbullah, whose achievement was highlighted recently, University of Warwick law graduate Ong June Han, 22, was also selected as a recipient of the prestigious scholarship.

Ong will pursue a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Law at the University of Oxford.

Raised in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, she is completing the Bar Professional Training Course at City, University of London.

Ong has great interest for the legal world and social justice.

“Words have the power to shed light on injustice and pave the way for advocacy. By studying law, one can put oneself in the shoes of others, cultivating one’s empathy and awareness of the injustice that occurs daily.

“Lawyers have the ability to improve people’s access to justice by giving them the representation they need to curb inequalities,” she added.

She hoped to subsequently take part in a Bachelor of Civil Law course, which is designed for excellent law students from common law backgrounds.

“These two programmes will equip me with the tools to pursue social justice advocacy more comprehensively. Hopefully, I can translate these efforts into helping local communities in Malaysia and internationally.”

With this dedication, she conducted a research project centring around the potential criminalisation of mental bullying.

While the United Kingdom had put in place laws to combat bullying, Ong believed that there was much more that could be done to address the legislative gap.

Ong June Han (front row, second from left) with the University of Warwick team at the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM) in Boston, United States.

“The legislation is silent when it comes to mental bullying in the student halls of universities. Also known as social exclusion bullying, it causes harm to the victim through systematic manipulation and destruction of their peer relationships and social status.

“My project was aimed at investigating whether we could criminalise mental bullying, specifically those arising from people living in the same private setting without familial or intimate ties.

“We recommended that peer bullying should be classified as domestic abuse under the new UK Domestic Abuse Bill,” she said, adding that her lecturers, Dr Vanessa Munro and Dr Laura Lammasniemi, guided her throughout the journey.

During her degree, Ong had received the Best Overall Performance award twice for her outstanding academic achievement.

She also won gold at the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM) 2018 for producing an intellectual property guidebook for the synthetic biology community.

“I discovered a conundrum faced by the iGEM scientific community, which is the difficulty in patenting their synthetic biological products.

“My guidebook focused on the debate between the open-source policy against the protection offered from intellectual property patent rights.”

Ong explored potential solutions for the law to balance between openness and investment opportunities.

“This includes the possibility of blockchain usage in safeguarding patents and adding a confidentiality clause with a grace period for teams to consider taking up intellectual property protections for their projects.”

Apart from excelling in her studies, the 22-year-old has a penchant for the performing arts. She longs to dive into Oxford’s bustling performing arts scene.

“I believe that a way to engage the world to be more involved in social justice pursuits is through the arts, such as writing plays and composing music.

“With Oxford’s active performing arts community, I look forward to combining my interests in the arts with the ability to raise awareness on various injustices.”

In the future, Ong aims to set up her own practice in commercial litigation and pursue a career in the academia.

“The Rhodes Scholarship will allow me to give back to society as the law challenges structural injustice and disrupts narratives.

“It will also allow me to inject a sense of humility and nuance into conversations that have been stagnant and divisive. A tiny seed of legalistic and moralistic empathy can change years of bias in helping to improve the lives of many.”

Highlighting the importance of female representation at the higher judiciary level, Ong said: “Women judges have been known to bring a more empathetic perspective, by not only looking at the legal basis for judicial action, but also the consequences on the people affected.

“This can be illustrated by the judgments passed down by the UK Supreme Court President Baroness Brenda Hale and United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“Hence, I was thrilled to learn that two leaders of the Malaysian judiciary are now women, with Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat being Malaysia’s first woman chief justice, and Datuk Rohana Yusuf named as the first woman Court of Appeal president.”

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