Retaining chief justice beyond retirement age illegal, says Bar

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KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Bar has joined the chorus of critics protesting the likelihood of the authorities extending the tenure of Chief Justice Raus Sharif.

The Bar, which represents the voice of some 18,000 lawyers in the peninsula, said it would be unconstitutional to extend Raus’ term beyond the prescribed age limit.

“It is our considered view that such an extension, if it is carried out, would be unconstitutional,” its president George Varughese said in a statement today.

Varughese said this in response to a recent report in the The Malaysian Insight, which quoted a Putrajaya source as saying the tenure of Raus and national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar was expected to be extended up to two years to ensure continuity as the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) faces the general election by August 2018.

He said Articles 121 to 131A of the Federal Constitution gave rise to the conclusion that a Federal Court judge, who includes the chief justice, could not remain in office after 66 years and six months in age.

Varughese said the chief justice could also not remain in office by being appointed an “additional judge of the Federal Court by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, acting on the advice of the chief justice”.

“Any such appointment would be unconstitutional, and unprecedented,” he added.

Firstly, he said the word “additional” denoted a judge who is not currently a member of the Federal Court.

Secondly, he said constitutional provisions stated that the chief justice and any additional judge must be two distinct persons.

Varughese said the weight and importance of the office of the chief justice, who served as the head of the judicial branch of government, could not be over-emphasised.

“The legality of the appointment of a chief justice must always be beyond question or reproach.”

He said if the chief justice’s tenure was extended in a questionable manner, it would give rise to the perception that there was no other suitable candidate among the current members in the Federal Court.

“Such a perception will result in a general lack of public confidence in the judiciary and this must be avoided.”

Varughese said Raus’ contributions to the judiciary were well known and it would not be fair to him should he be embroiled in any form of controversy at the pinnacle of his illustrious career.

Last week, retired Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram also said any extension given to Raus would be unconstitutional and could be subject to legal challenge.

Sri Ram said the only other route was to amend the constitution to extend the age of retirement for all judges.

But he said this was currently impossible as the BN government lacked a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

Criticism of any move to retain Raus as top judge also came from former de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim and former Bar Council president Param Cumaraswamy.

Raus was made chief justice and Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin Court of Appeal president on April 1.

Both are holding their positions on six-month extension, as approved by the king, Raus from Feb 3 and Zulkefli from March 27.

Raus should leave office on Aug 3 and Zulkefli on Sept 27.