Bar wants RCI into ‘reprimand’ of senior judge in Indira case

Court of Appeal judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer says he was not assigned to hear cases relating to the constitution following his dissenting judgment in the M Indira Gandhi unilateral conversion case. (File pic)

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Bar today called for the immediate establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) to investigate serious assertions of judicial misconduct.

The RCI must also recommend holistic reforms to improve and strengthen the judiciary, Bar president George Varughese said in a statement.

He said the Bar was “alarmed” over the recent revelations by Court of Appeal judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer, which cast grave doubt on the integrity and independence of the judiciary.

During his presentation as a panellist at the Malaysian Bar’s International Malaysia Law Conference 2018 on Aug 16, Hamid said he was “severely reprimanded” by a “top judge” for his dissenting judgment in the M Indira Gandhi unilateral conversion case.

He added that he was subsequently not assigned or empanelled to hear cases relating to the Federal Constitution and public interest matters.

Varughese said any attempt by a top judge, or any other judge, to curtail the ability of other judges to exercise their autonomy in the performance of their judicial duties was an abuse of power and a serious instance of judicial misconduct.

“The reprimanding of a judge for a decision that was made based on the facts and the applicable laws, but that is not to the liking of the top judge, would undoubtedly send a warning signal to others within the judiciary to conform and toe the line.

“This would undoubtedly and unacceptably impinge on a judge’s ability to fulfil his or her duty.

“The alleged incident begs the question as to the prevalence of interference of this nature into the independence of individual judges, and whether similar pressure has been brought to bear on other judges, especially in high-profile public interest cases, and cases involving the state,” he said.

Varughese said a thorough investigation was needed to ascertain the facts and the extent of any interference in the ability of judges to make impartial decisions.

Measures must also be put in place to ensure that no coercion, influence or threat is ever brought to bear on any judge, he said.

“Judicial independence is sacrosanct, and forms the cornerstone of a fair and impartial judiciary.

“The spectre of judgments being tainted by undue pressure is very troubling.

“It severely undermines public confidence in the judiciary, which has for some time been a matter of immense concern to the Malaysian Bar and the public.”

Varughese said the incident also unfairly cast aspersions on the integrity and reputation of all past and current office bearers of the judiciary and Federal Court judges, and on the conscientious and scrupulous work of many good judges.

Hence, he said, it was imperative that an RCI into the judiciary be established without delay.

He said it should leave no stone unturned in carrying out its investigations and making recommendations in order to stamp out improper practices, and for the much-needed reform of the judiciary.