PETALING JAYA: Lawyers for Liberty says although successive BN governments are largely to blame for the dismal state of the judiciary, the judges themselves must shoulder some of the responsibility as well.
Weighing in on the recent appointments of Chief Justice Raus Sharif and Court of Appeal president Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin as additional judges, executive director Eric Paulsen said the judiciary was once again being tested.
“The judges themselves cannot escape scrutiny for their failure to resist the encroachment of the executive upon judicial independence.
“The Malaysian judiciary was once held in very high regard in the Commonwealth but surely not anymore, and these controversial appointments can only further erode its reputation,” he said in a statement today.
On Friday, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) 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.
According to the PMO, 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.
Many have voiced concern over the appointments, with Malaysian Bar president George Varughese saying they lent credence to the inference that there was a dearth of suitable candidates among the current members of the Federal Court.
Varughese 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.
Others such as opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said the appointments were unconstitutional and had plunged Malaysia into a new constitutional crisis.
Lim and Varughese echoed the statement of former chief justice Abdul Hamid Mohamad who last month urged Raus to put aside his personal interests and decline the appointment.
Hamid said then that Raus would be remembered for a long time for his bravery, unselfishness, dignity and integrity if he declined the appointment.
Today, Paulsen said the appointments of Raus and Zulkefli were made through an “unusual process” and asked what the special circumstances were surrounding the positions.
“We are indeed shocked and appalled by these appointments which can only be described as a desperate attempt by Prime Minister Najib Razak to further undermine the independence of the judiciary.”
He said in a functioning democracy, it is essential that there should be a separation of powers among the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
This ensures a system of checks and balances, the rule of law and the absence of abuse of power, he added.
“To carry out its role and function, the judiciary must be independent, and judges must be concerned only with upholding the cause of justice without fear or favour.
“Needless to say, there should not be any public perception that judges are beholden politically to the government and they are not free to act in an independent and unbiased manner.
“The judiciary is once again being tested and we call upon the judges to stand strong and defend uncompromisingly their independence, to uphold and defend the constitution as they have sworn to do so, and reject the unconstitutional appointments of the chief justice or president of the Court of Appeal.”