Ex-Bar chief: Have good mix of judges from Bar and civil service

Ragunath Kesavan wants an equal number of judges to be chosen from the Bars and the Judicial and Legal Service. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A former Malaysian Bar president has urged the incoming chief justice to source for more judges among lawyers to enhance the quality of the bench.

Ragunath Kesavan said at least 10 Federal Court and 12 Court of Appeal judges would retire over the next 18 months, and legal minds with experience and capacity must be scouted to fill the vacancies.

“Ideally, the judiciary must have 50% of judges coming from the three Bars all over the country and another 50% from the Judicial and Legal Service (JLS),” he told FMT.

The three Bars are the Malaysian Bar, the Sabah Law Society and the Advocates Association of Sarawak.

However, most of the judges, including judicial commissioners and High Court judges, are appointed from JLS.

Ragunath said even the chief justice, one of the four administrative positions in the judiciary, could be selected from among Bar members.

“The appointing authority could look for outsiders instead of those from the JLS,” he added.

At least two Bar members – Dzaidin Abdullah (2000-2003) and Zaki Azmi (2008-2011) – were appointed as chief justices.

Ragunath said this in response to a statement by lawyer and activist Haris Ibrahim that the government should appoint a new chief justice from among senior members of the Malaysian Bar.

Haris had said the decisions of some judges failed to inspire trust in the judiciary. He cited as an example the conduct of Court of Appeal and Federal Court judges in handling appeals on alleged malapportionment and gerrymandering by the Election Commission (EC) in the redelineation exercise before the May 9 polls.

Haris, who is also an active blogger, said in refusing to dispense justice, the judges had failed to preserve, protect and defend the Federal Constitution.

He made the remark last week following the resignation of Chief Justice Raus Sharif, effective July 31. Court of Appeal president Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin will also vacate his position on the same day.

The Conference of Rulers, which will meet on July 11, is expected to endorse candidates identified by the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) or sanctioned by the prime minister.

Retired judges and lawyers have said the prime minister is not obliged to follow any proposal by Raus, who is also chairman of the JAC.

They said the prime minister could choose to follow a provision in the Federal Constitution which is superior to the JAC Act, which came into force in 2009.

Meanwhile, another ex-Bar president Zainur Zakaria said he disagreed with Haris’ proposal that a senior eminent member of the Bar be appointed as chief justice to replace Raus.

“Whatever infraction may have been committed by Raus and Zulkefli should not be held against the other judges and call their integrity and credibility into question,” he said.

Zainur said there were good and capable judges within the judiciary who could assume the offices of the chief justice and Court of Appeal president.

“They should not be tarred with the same brush,” he said.

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