Judicial controversy: Seek Federal Court’s opinion, MP tells Putrajaya

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PETALING JAYA: Opposition MP Gobind Singh Deo has joined Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s lawyer in calling on Putrajaya to seek a judicial opinion on whether the appointments of the two top judicial officers is constitutional.

Gobind said the government need not wait for a legal challenge to be filed by interested parties.

“The questions over the constitutionality of the appointments of Justices Raus Sharif and Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin as additional judges and as Chief Justice and President of the Court of Appeal should be resolved before they take office,” he said in a statement.

He said if the government was certain that the appointments were in order, then a reference ought to be made to the Federal Court.

“The government can do this by advising the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to seek an opinion from the Federal Court as provided under Article 130 of the Federal Constitution,” he said

That clause states that the King can refer to the Federal Court for its opinion any question as to the effect of any provision in the constitution which has arisen or appears to him likely to arise.

The provision also states the court shall pronounce in open court its opinion on any question referred to it.

Gobind said if the prime minister had sought legal opinion, then that opinion could be tested.

“An opinion, however much one agrees with it, remains just that. One cannot equate it with a pronouncement by the apex court which is what is now needed to finally determine the matter,” he added.

His response came after Friday’s media statement from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) that the King had approved the then out-going chief justice Arifin Zakaria’s proposal to appoint Raus and Zulkefli as additional judges.

Following the approval, the PMO statement said, the King, on the advice of the prime minister and after consulting the Conference of Rulers which met in May, had appointed Raus and Zulkefli to remain in their present posts.

Raus’ tenure is for three years from Aug 4 while Zulkefli will remain in his current administrative post for two years from Sept 28.

Gobind, who is a lawyer, said public confidence in the judiciary demanded that all judicial appointments be beyond question and never doubtful for any reason.

“It would be a tragedy of the highest order if a challenge is successful years ahead, in which the orders now passed by these judges become questionable,” he said.

On Sunday, Dr Mahathir’s lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla had urged the King to seek an opinion from the Federal Court to determine if appointing the two top judicial officers as additional judges to remain in their administrative posts was valid.

Former chief justice Abdul Hamid Mohamad had voiced his disapproval through his blog in May that a further extension to Raus’ tenure would be unconstitutional and would cause uncertainty in the judiciary.

In another posting yesterday, Hamid said the judiciary would be perceived as pro-government should Raus and Zulkefli hold on to their posts.

Similar opinions had been expressed by former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram, former de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim, current Malaysian Bar president George Varughese, and others.