A ‘new era’ in handling election disputes, says ex-judge

The Attorney-General’s Chambers will no longer represent the Election Commission in suits against the commission.

PETALING JAYA: Retired judge Gopal Sri Ram has described as “the birth of a new era” a decision by the Attorney-General to end the use of lawyers from his department to represent the Election Commission in election suits.

Gopal Sri Ram, a former Federal Court judge who returned to private practice, said protests in the past about a potential conflict of interest had fallen on deaf ears.

Since independence, senior federal counsel of the Attorney-General’s Chambers had represented the Election Commission when legal action was taken against it after an election or by-election, or other decisions of the EC such as constituency changes.

“Now, court battles involving election petitions will only involve private lawyers,” he said, and noted that the Election Commission of India was represented by private law practitioners.

The Attorney-General, Tommy Thomas, said yesterday that the EC, as a neutral arbiter in the conduct of elections, should not be represented by AGC lawyers to prevent any potential conflict of interest.

Sri Ram said the reaction of the judiciary to the decision was left to be seen. However, until now the court had bent over backwards in favour of the EC, he said.

In early February, Chief Justice Raus Sharif led a bench that dismissed two cases brought by two MPs and seven voters against the EC’s proposed redrawing of constituency boundaries. Raus said the courts could not interfere or “encroach on the functions of other bodies (legislature and executive) mandated by the Constitution”.