Judicial controversy: Zaid hopes Palace will clarify appointments

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KUALA LUMPUR: Former de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim has urged the Office of the Yang di Pertuan Agong to clarify whose legal advice was relied upon in extending the tenures of the nation’s two top judges.

In his latest blog post, Zaid also says he’s perplexed as to why people close to or associated with Prime Minister Najib Razak want Raus Sharif to continue as chief justice after his term expires.

In urging the Palace to clarify the issue, Zaid says: “If it’s the advice of former chief justice Tun Arifin (Zakaria), maybe we can examine his correspondence (with) the palace.

“It will be interesting to read Tun Arifin’s reasons for supporting Raus. Likewise, it will also be helpful if the Office of the Agong could also allow the public to view the attorney-general’s opinion of the issue.

“Why do all these opinions and disclosures matter? Because after 1MDB we must all be very careful. We live under a government that operates in the twilight zone: where truth and falsehood interchange freely, where what’s bogus and what’s real are unrecognisable.”

He claims it is possible that someone could even have supplied “bogus legal opinions on false letterheads”.

Last Friday, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced that the Agong had approved the then out-going chief justice Arifin Zakaria’s proposal to appoint Raus Sharif and Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin as additional judges.

Following the approval, the PMO statement said, the Agong, 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 as chief justice and Court of Appeal president respectively.

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

Zaid, a lawyer, claims that three months ago, at a function organised by the Lincoln’s Inn alumni, former chief justice Zaki Azmi had called on those gathered at the event to do their best to ensure that Raus became the chief justice after Arifin.

“Well, Raus did become chief justice, and if not for the additional-judge mechanism, he would have had to retire in a few months. Maybe Tun Zaki can explain to the people of this country why it is so important that Raus remains chief justice for a much longer period past his retirement age as provided by the law.”

Noting that Anwar Ibrahim, in jail for sodomy, thinks that lawyer Shafee Abdullah is the architect of “this roundabout way” of appointing the chief justice, Zaid says his friends in London believe Shafee had sought the opinion of Geoffrey Robertson QC in support of this appointment.

“Why do we need a foreign legal opinion unless it’s to ‘supersede’ the opinion of the attorney-general?”

Zaid, who is now a DAP member, says Azalina Othman Said, the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, had said that Arifin had recommended that Raus be appointed an additional judge a day before he himself retired.

“If true, this ‘additional judge’ mechanism has been abused simply to enable Raus to become chief justice for a longer term while bypassing the age limitation imposed by the Federal Constitution.

“Unless Tun Arifin comes out in the open to confirm the facts, I won’t believe this story. I don’t believe Tun Arifin would bend over backwards to flout the constitution in order to recommend Raus for chief justice in this manner.”

He says he cannot believe that attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali would have agreed “to this manner of extending Raus’ tenure as well as the disregard of the law”.

Zaid says unless and until Apandi comes out to say he supports this appointment, “I will hold to the view that Raus’ appointment was done against the attorney-general’s advice”.