PETALING JAYA: The judiciary in Malaysia suffers from “in-breeding”, said former law minister Zaid Ibrahim, who called for greater public scrutiny of judges to restore the institution’s image.
Zaid said one problem is when appointment of top judges were regarded as part of the government’s affirmation action policy to help a certain community.
He warned that this could give rise to a perception that the judiciary was not independent from politicians who run the country.
“Most of those promoted to become judges come from the Attorney-General’s Chambers, and such ‘in-breeding’ does not generally help at all in the genetic growth of any species,” said Zaid in a blog posting.
He said a check would reveal that top judges had come from the same department, and this had led to senior legal officers in the government thinking that their promotions to the bench was automatic.
“To some of them, being appointed a judge is a ‘reward’ for ‘services rendered’.”
Zaid said some senior judges spoke about the independence of the judiciary, but questioned if they themselves had lived up to this principle.
He said an independent judiciary was one that could identify an abuse of power when it happens.
“When judges see such abuse and do nothing about it, then that’s not even a judiciary but the judicial section of the Prime Minister’s Department,” said Zaid.
He called for more open dialogues to bring back “respectability to our legal system”, adding that members of the judiciary must come under public scrutiny.
“We can talk of how they get promoted, their lifestyles, how they spend their golfing holidays, or if they ever signed up for a law conference overseas but skipped the conference when it suited them.
“These are permissible criticisms because judges are public servants.
“Do not worry about contempt of court. Instead, worry about what will happen to our country if this is left unchecked,” Zaid said.