Revamp Judicial Appointments Commission next, says lawyers group

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen. (Bernama pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Lawyers group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) today called for a revamp of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) following news of the resignations of Chief Justice Raus Sharif and Court of Appeal president Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin.

Saying the resignations paved the way for a restoration of independence in the judiciary, LFL executive director Eric Paulsen added that the JAC should be overhauled to include members of legal bodies, the academia and civil society.

“Although the erosion of judicial independence has been decades in the making, the shocking move by the previous BN (Barisan Nasional) administration to usher in the re-appointments of Raus and Zulkefli as chief justice and Court of Appeal president, respectively, through the back door, took executive interference in the judiciary to new heights.

“Worse, their appointments as ‘additional judges’ were blatantly unconstitutional, but they hung on for almost a year despite the barrage of criticism and legal challenges filed against them.”

Raus and Zulkefli tendered their resignation letters to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on June 8. Their resignations come into effect from July 31.

Paulsen said the JAC, which comprises seven senior judges or former judges, a former state attorney-general and an academic, must be reformed to ensure that the selection and elevation of future judges will be devoid of political consideration.

“Senior and more qualified judges should no longer be overlooked and frozen out of promotion in favour of junior judges.

“Further, the current top-judiciary heavy composition of the commission should be diversified, and the other members of the commission should no longer be appointed by the prime minister as presently practised.”

He said a good example to follow was the UK’s JAC, which comprises 15 commissioners, 12 of whom are appointed through open competition. The other three are selected from among judges by the judges’ council.

Paulsen said Malaysia’s JAC should seek to broaden its depth of knowledge, expertise and independence by appointing commissioners other than the heads of the Federal Court, Court of Appeal, High Courts of Malaya and Sabah/Sarawak and other senior judges.

He also called for efforts to include representatives from the Malaysian Bar, Sabah Law Society and Advocates Association of Sarawak.

“The road ahead to restore Malaysia’s judiciary to its past glory will be long and arduous, and the resignation of Raus and Zulkefli is just the beginning.

“We look forward to a time when Malaysia’s judiciary will be truly independent and be respected once again in the commonwealth,” he said.

Top judges Raus, Zulkefli step down