PETALING JAYA: Putrajaya must explain to the public the rationale for appointing Raus Sharif and Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin as additional judges to retain them as Chief Justice and Court of Appeal President, respectively, a former Malaysian Bar president said.
Zainur Zakaria said this was an unusual measure taken by the government and the constitutionality of their appointments would likely be open to a legal challenge.
“The public need to know the rationale why the top two judges were retained beyond their retirement age,” he told FMT.
Zainur said this was a matter of public interest as the people and the legal fraternity must have confidence in the judiciary.
Last night, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying Raus would continue to hold his position for another three years from Aug 4.
It also stated that Zulkefli would continue to hold his position for another two years from Sept 28.
Raus was scheduled to retire on Aug 3 and Zulkefli on Sept 27, after reaching the age of 66 years and 6 months.
The statement said their appointments as additional judges were made pursuant to Article 122B(1) of the Federal Constitution by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, on the advice of the Prime Minister and after consultation with the Conference of Rulers.
The statement said the appointment of Raus and Zulkefli as additional judges was on the suggestion of the then chief justice Arifin Zakaria to the King on March 30 before his retirement.
Zainur said keeping Raus and Zulkefli for three and two years respectively on the bench sent the message that other judges in the Federal court were not of the calibre to take over their positions.
He said there would be no issue if both were only made an additional judge like Jeffrey Tan Kok Hwa, who was given a two-year contract from July 1 last year.
Meanwhile, it is believed that at least eight Federal Court judges could miss promotional opportunities if Raus and Zulkefli remained in their present positions.
FMT has previously reported that retired judges and the Malaysian Bar had expressed their reservations on the likelihood of Raus and Zulkefli being retained in their posts.
Abdul Hamid Mohamad, who served as chief justice for about a year until 2008, said any move by Raus to remain in office after retirement would compromise the independence of the Malaysian judiciary.
Hamid said retaining a chief justice beyond the compulsory retirement age would create uncertainty among other judges regarding their career.
Retired Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram said there were capable judges to take over the position of Raus as top judicial officer.
He warned that if the government defied the constitutional and legal restraints and proceeded to extend the tenure of the chief justice, it would “sow the wind but reap the whirlwind”.
Malaysian Bar president George Varughese had also expressed concern that the extension of the tenure of the country’s top judge was not only unconstitutional but has now unfairly embroiled Raus in a controversy.