Apex court set to rule on last year’s appointments of top judges

The appointments of Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin (left) and Raus Sharif (right) last year sparked outrage from the legal fraternity. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: There is anxiety in the legal fraternity ahead of a decision by the Federal Court tomorrow on the legality of the appointments of chief justice Raus Sharif and Court of Appeal president Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin as additional judges last year.

The seven-member bench led by Hasan Lah could rule the appointments were constitutional or otherwise.

Judges could rule the legal challenge, filed by the Malaysian Bar and the Advocates Association of Sarawak (AAS), as academic, since Raus and Zulkefli have resigned.

The bench had on Sept 13 invited all parties for clarification and to know their positions.

During the session, government lawyer Suzana Atan said the constitutional challenge had become academic since Raus and Zulkefli were no longer on the bench.

Lawyers for the Bar and AAS insisted that the bench must deliver a ruling.

They were supported by the Sabah Law Society, which was given the status of amicus curiae (friend of the court), and former opposition leader and current prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was allowed to hold a watching brief.

The Muslim Lawyers Association, which was allowed to be an intervener, also called for a judgment although it supports the previous government’s stand that the appointments were constitutional.

Lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdullah, who appeared for Mahathir, said he might pursue his client’s case in the Court of Appeal if the bench ruled the challenge as academic.

At the heart of the suit is whether Raus and Zulkefli could be first appointed additional judges for them to remain as chief justice and Court of Appeal resident.

The Bar and AAS said they could not remain in their administrative positions beyond the retirement age of 66 years plus six months.

They also question whether former chief justice Arifin Zakaria could advise the king to appoint Raus and Zulkefli as additional judges a day before his retirement on March 31 last year.

Raus and Zulkefli were appointed as chief justice and Court of Appeal president on April 1 last year, and supposed to retire on Aug 3 and Sept 27 respectively upon reaching the mandatory retirement age.

However, the Barisan Nasional government announced on July 7 that Raus would remain in office for another three years from Aug 4, while Zulkefli would remain in his post for another two years from Sept 28.

The duo resigned two months ago.

Meanwhile, lawyer R Kengadharan said the outcome of the case would have wide ramifications on the judiciary and the nation.

“Apart from hearing civil and criminal appeals, the apex court is the sole interpreter of our Federal Constitution. I hope the bench make a ruling with cogent reasons,” he told FMT.

Kengadharan said the matter was not academic although Raus and Sharif were no longer in office.

Lawyer Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali said the bench was being presented with the opportunity to interpret several Articles in the Federal Constitution.

“Any decision may well signal on how the executive may move forward to propose constitutional amendments to bring clarity to the Articles in the supreme law of the land,” he added.

Rafique said the nation had been in a constitutional crisis since Raus and Zulkefli’s appointments.

Aside from Hasan, other judges on the bench are Zainun Ali, Ramly Ali, Zaharah Ibrahim, Balia Yusof Wahi, Aziah Ali and Alizatul Khair Osman Khairuddin.