Bar Council cancels forum to discuss judges’ appointments

George-Varughese-egm

PETALING JAYA: The much-awaited forum next week featuring a retired judge and a senior lawyer on the appointments of the chief justice and Court of Appeal president has been called off due to “unforeseen circumstances”.

Malaysian Bar president George Varughese said the forum was too close to the extraordinary general meeting (EGM) and that all staff were involved in preparations for the gathering.

“Unlike having it in a hotel, the EGM is held in a hall. We need to sort everything, including chairs, PA system, catering and parking. Our resources are stretched to their limits,” he told FMT.

The EGM will be held at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall on Aug 3 at 4pm.

The forum titled “Appointments of Chief Justice and President of Court of Appeal: Constitutional Issue” had been scheduled to be held at the Raja Aziz Addruse Auditorium at the Straits Trading Building on Aug 2.

Former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram, who has publicly spoken against the appointments, and lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who is for the move, were slated to speak at the event.

Sri Ram said he was notified of the cancellation by the Bar Council via email on Wednesday evening.

“No reason was given for calling off the forum,” he said.

As early as April, Sri Ram had said the tenure of Chief Justice Raus Sharif could not be extended as it was not provided for in the Federal Constitution.

He said a chief justice could not be appointed as an additional judge and then re-appointed as chief justice as there were no provisions under Articles 122(1) and (1A).

He also said 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”.

“First, it will undermine the judiciary and denude it of the respect such as which exists today.

“Second, and more importantly, the extension may be challenged causing embarrassment to the present incumbent. That must be avoided at all costs,” he had said.

Shafee, in a commentary on July 8, said the tenure of Raus and Court of Appeal president Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin could be extended as “additional judges” under Article 122(1A) of the constitution.

He said this provision had been utilised twice, once for Federal Court judge S Chelvasingam MacIntyre in 1965 and again last year to appoint Jeffrey Tan Kok Hwa for two years.

Shafee said Raus and Zulkefli‘s extension of tenure had to do with their competence, experience and administrative skills.

He said no provisions in the constitution seemed to prohibit their appointments.

Three weeks ago, the government said both would be appointed additional judges to remain in their current positions.

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

Raus’ extension was criticised by the legal fraternity, with senior lawyers and former chief justice Abdul Hamid Mohamad questioning its constitutionality.

The peninsula-based Malaysian Bar has described the appointments as “blatantly unconstitutional” while the Sabah Law Society and the Advocates Association of Sarawak have urged Raus and Zulkefli to consider the potential risk to public confidence in the judiciary in deciding whether to remain in office after their mandatory retirement age.