SHAH ALAM: To realise an independent judiciary, it is important for all parties within Pakatan Harapan (PH) to be of one mind, said human rights lawyer Eric Paulsen.
“As a coalition, it will be difficult for any one top leader to make decisions on his own.
“Therefore, if an independent judiciary is on PPBM’s manifesto, then it is up to the coalition as a whole to keep that promise,” he said.
He was responding to a proposal by PPBM chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad, at the party’s annual general meeting on Saturday, to restore the independence of the judiciary should PH take over Putrajaya in the next general election (GE14).
Paulsen said Mahathir must be reminded that it was during his administration that the judiciary came under its worst attack with the sacking of the then Lord President.
In the 1988 judicial crisis, Salleh Abas (the then Lord President of the Supreme Court) was removed from office and five other Supreme Court judges were also suspended.
An independent judiciary is a welcome idea, as currently there is little transparency nor accountability in the appointment and promotion of judges, Paulsen said.
“We only need to look at the controversial reappointments of the top two judges to know that the system has failed.
“But it is never too late to reform if we want to save Malaysia,” he said.
Civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan, while agreeing that the proposal is welcome, said if Mahathir was talking about judicial appointments, the country already has the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC).
“It’s a case of strengthening that commission and also moving a constitutional amendment to compel the prime minister to heed the recommendations of the JAC.
“As it stands, the prime minister has no obligation to heed the recommendations of the JAC on judicial appointments,” he said.
According to Syahredzan, the JAC has representatives from the Bar Council Malaysia as well as the Attorney-General’s Chambers and stakeholders in the administration of justice.
“Their feedback is more valuable than elected representatives,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mahathir’s lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla said while the judiciary during the former prime minister’s tenure lacked independence, Mahathir had never interfered in the respective branches.
“In my personal observations, historically, Mahathir was never involved in the decisions of the three branches.
“While things have happened during his tenure as prime minister, it could be that the respective branches had worked with Umno for too long and therefore had indirectly acted under the influence of the party,” he said when met by FMT.
He added that Prime Minister Najib Razak had destroyed the separation of powers between the three branches.
“If this matter is not handled according to the Federal Constitution, the country is headed towards the path of anarchy, where democracy is only spoken of but not practised.
“That is an important structure in any democracy. Without separation of powers, democracy will not exist; democracy will die,” he said.
Many quarters had previously blamed Mahathir for removing the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary when he was prime minister from 1981 to 2003.