PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Bar says it is concerned by the government’s recent announcement to appoint two top judicial officers as additional judges to keep them in their administrative posts.
Its president, George Varughese, said the announcement lent credence to the inference that there was a dearth of suitable candidates among the current members of the Federal Court, which the Bar believes is untrue.
“This perception will result in widespread and severe erosion of public confidence in the judiciary and its independence, and raises the question in the public’s mind as to why the appointments are being made at all, and in this manner,” he said in a statement.
He said the appointments also did an undeserved disservice to sitting Federal Court judges, especially those who were due to retire before the expiry of the appointments.
He said this in response to contrary views expressed by the legal fraternity on the announcement made by the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday that Chief Justice Raus Sharif and Court of Appeal president Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin would be made additional judges to remain in their current positions.
On Friday, the office announced that Raus would continue to hold his position for another three years from Aug 4 while Zulkefli would also have his appointment extended for another two years from Sept 28.
Raus is scheduled to retire on Aug 3 and Zulkefli on Sept 27 after attaining the age of 66 years and six months, the maximum retirement age for judges.
The statement added that under Article 122B(1) of the Federal Constitution, the appointments for these posts were made by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, on the advice of the prime minister and after consultation with the Conference of Rulers.
The statement also said the appointments of Raus and Zulkefli as additional judges were based on the suggestion and advice of former chief justice Arifin Zakaria to the king on March 30 before he retired.
Varughese said the Bar did not question the abilities, capabilities or suitability of Raus and Zulkefli and had welcomed their respective appointments on April 1.
He said the legality and integrity of the appointment of a Chief Justice and a Court of Appeal president must always be beyond reproach.
He said when Raus and Zulkefli took their oaths of judicial office, they pledged to uphold the Federal Constitution.
“They should now fulfil their vows by declining the appointments.
“It would be deeply regrettable and unfair to unnecessarily embroil them in controversy at this stage of their careers.”
Former chief justice Abdul Hamid Mohamad had publicly advised that a further extension to Raus’ tenure would be unconstitutional.
Similar opinions were expressed by former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram and former de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim.