PUTRAJAYA: The three bar associations in Malaysia have declared that they reject the current practice of giving the prime minister a say in the appointment and promotion of judges, according to Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru.
In a speech at the ceremonial opening of the new legal year, Thiru said the Malaysian Bar, the Sabah Law Association and the Advocates’ Association of Sarawak were in fact in agreement that the executive branch of government should have no part at all in the process.
He said the present system placed inordinate powers in the hands of the prime minister, who could veto without justification the recommendations of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC).
“While the executive is entitled to express its views, the final recommendation to the Conference of Rulers should emanate only from the JAC,” he added.
He said the exclusion of the prime minister from the process would remove any concern that appointments and promotions were prejudiced and candidates were rejected because they were not favoured by the executive.
Thiru made several other suggestions that he said would improve the system.
“There is a need to move away from the tradition of judges appointing judges and to establish a composition that is reflective of society as a whole,” he said, adding that it was now common for appointing commissions elsewhere to be composed of representatives of the legal sector and lay persons.
Currently, the eight-year-old JAC consists of five sitting judges from the Federal Court and four retired judges.
Thiru said the three bar associations should be consulted when lawyers were considered for appointment as judges.
He also spoke on the subject of legal aid, saying he feared that the National Legal Aid Foundation (YBGK) would suffer as Putrajaya embarked on an austerity drive.
“This should not happen as the state-funded YBGK is no less important than the public health scheme,” he said.
He said Malaysian lawyers last year provided legal aid at an average rate of 15,166 criminal cases a month.