Bar: Eminent persons in JAC must come from diverse groups

Malaysian Bar president George Varughese says future appointments of JAC members should move away from being dominated by serving and retired judges. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Bar takes the view that the four “eminent persons” appointed to the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) ought to come from the Attorney-General’s Chambers, lawyers’ representatives, the academia and civil society.

Its president, George Varughese, said there should also be greater gender and ethnic representation in the JAC whose role is to appoint and elevate judges in the superior courts.

“Future appointments of JAC members should strive for inclusivity and diversity, and move away from being dominated by serving and retired judges whose views would be adequately represented by the five mandatory members of the judiciary,” he said in a statement.

His concern came in the wake of the appointments of four JAC members — former Court of Appeal judges Mah Weng Kwai, Hishamudin Yunus and Linton Albert, and law professor Shad Saleem Faruqi — by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad for a two-year term from Sept 4.

“We welcome the new appointments and look forward to these appointees carrying out their duties with independence and integrity.”

He said the Bar had long advocated a JAC whose membership is representative of all the stakeholders in the administration of justice.

“We had voiced our concerns about the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, which was passed as the Judicial Appointments Commission Act 2009. Some of those reservations still remain,” he added.

He said the Bar noted that the representation on JAC was currently tipped in favour of the judiciary.

The Chief Justice, who is the JAC chairman, the Court of Appeal president, Chief Judge of Malaya and Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak are automatic members by virtue of their positions.

The prime minister is also empowered to appoint a senior Federal Court judge to the JAC.

However, Varughese said section 5 (1) of the JAC Act allowed the composition to be balanced by the appointment of four “eminent persons” who are not members of the executive or public service.

He said there was an urgent need to reform the appointment process for members of both JAC and the judiciary.

He said a clear defined criteria for the selection and promotion of judges, meaningful consultation with all relevant stakeholders, and accountability of those involved in the appointment processes were critical.

Varughese said JAC must be an institution that is absolutely independent and stand the test of time, no matter which individual helmed the top office of the state.

“An effective and unimpeachable JAC of true substance is indispensable to reinstating and upholding the integrity of the Malaysian judiciary,” he added.

Varughese said a meticulous, stringent and impartial selection of judicial candidates is crucial for safeguarding the independence of the judiciary to restore and ultimately elevate much-needed public confidence in the judiciary.