Promote Court of Appeal judges, say ex-judge, former Bar chief

Both Gopal Sri Ram and Ragunath Kesavan say priority must be given to capable Court of Appeal judges to fill vacancies in the Federal Court.

PUTRAJAYA: Six Federal Court judges will leave office over the next nine months, resulting in an unprecedented exodus in the nation’s apex court.

Justices Hasan Lah and Balia Yusof Wahi are scheduled to retire at the end of this month, followed by Zainun Ali in April.

Two other women judges, Aziah Ali and Zaharah Ibrahim, will retire in May and November, respectively.

Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, Justice Richard Malanjum, the longest serving Federal Court judge, since 2004, will also retire in October.

Retired Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram said today priority must be given to Court of Appeal judges to be elevated to fill these vacancies. Former Malaysian Bar president Ragunath Kesavan agrees.

Article 125 of the Federal Constitution requires judges to retire at age 66 but the chief justice can advise the king to extend their tenure for another six months.

It is not immediately known whether Hasan, Balia, Zainun and Aziah have been given the additional six months to remain in office.

The two-year contract of retired Federal Court judge Jeffrey Tan Kok Hwa, who was made an additional judge, will also come to an end on June 30.

Currently, there are three vacancies in the Federal Court following the retirement of Justices Suryadi Halim in November, Prasad Sandosham Abraham in January and Abu Samah Noordin last month.

All three left office after serving an additional six months.

Article 122 allows for the appointment of 11 ordinary Federal Court judges apart from the chief justice, Court of Appeal president, chief judge of Malaya, and chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak.

Article 122 (1A) empowers the chief justice to advise the king to appoint, for a specific purpose or a period of time, any person who has held high judicial office as an additional judge.

“Deserving candidates from the Court of Appeal must be given preference as this is their career advancement in the judiciary,” Sri Ram told FMT in response to the spate of retirements of the apex court judges coming close together.

He said the Court of Appeal was the “engine of the judiciary” and strong and experienced judges were also needed there as it was the apex court for cases that originated from magistrates’ and sessions courts.

Sri Ram said the secondary option was to source among retired judges or appoint senior lawyers from the Bar.

He cited the case of lawyer Zaki Azmi who was made a Federal Court judge in 2008 before he rose to become the Court of Appeal president and finally the chief justice.

Sri Ram said only experienced legal minds should be promoted to the nation’s top court as it was a policy-making institution and a judicial compass.

“Our apex court must give direction on the law it should take. It could be forward or backward,” he said, citing the regressive recent Federal Court decision in holding that the prime minister was not a public officer and could not be sued for the tort of misfeasance in public office.

Sri Ram said those elevated must only be subservient to the law and must write judgments that would be looked up to by others in Commonwealth countries.

Former Malaysian Bar president Ragunath, however, said the Judicial Appointments Commission should only source for legal brains for promotion among the Court of Appeal judges.

He said the practice of getting retired judges and parachuting senior lawyers to the bench should be stopped.

“It will demoralise Court of Appeal judges from getting promotion and deny them from holding administrative posts in the judiciary,” he said.

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