Don’t be ‘yes men’, dissenting judgments ok, chief justice tells judges

When you make a decision, consider it as if it is being made on the last day of your working life as a judge, says Chief Justice Richard Malanjum.

PUTRAJAYA: Chief Justice Richard Malanjum has urged his judges to be courageous in delivering their judgments even if it means giving dissenting views.

“Be brave and just do the right thing. When you make a decision, consider it as if it is being made on the last day of your working life as a judge,” Malanjum said.

He said there was no place in the judiciary for the “yes-man” or “herd” mentality.

The top judge said this when delivering a lecture on “The Role of Dissenting Judgments in the Malaysian Judicial System” in conjunction with the 17th Professor Emeritus Ahmad Ibrahim Memorial Lecture at the International Islamic University Malaysia last week.

The text of his speech was made available to the media today.

The late Ahmad led a distinguished legal career, having been the attorney-general of Singapore, a renowned practitioner, a revered ulama, and the chief architect of at least two of the most prestigious law faculties in Malaysia.

Malanjum, who assumed the top post three months ago, said Lord Denning, a renowned English judge, was of the view that when it came to judicial independence, judges ought not to make judgments for the sake of promotion.

He said judicial independence was unarguably a basic feature of the Federal Constitution.

“Independence requires freedom, not only from external influences but from their internal influences and pressures as well.

“Judges must make decisions free from any interference by his or her colleagues or superiors. The ‘herd mentality’ must be avoided,” he added.

Malanjum said Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzudin Shah, in a royal address delivered in March last year, had also encouraged judicial dissent as a form of judicial independence.

“This is also evident from history, for example the ground-breaking dissents of Justice HS Khanna of the Indian Supreme Court, and Lords Atkin and Denning of the United Kingdom,” he added.

Malanjum said while dissenting judgments might sometimes render the law uncertain, their positives outweighed the negatives.

“As past judgments have often done, they spark changes in legislation, and appeal to the intelligence of judges of a later day to update case law,” he said.

Malanjum said even in Islamic law, dissent in the form of ikhtilaf (“juristic disagreement”) was recognised and encouraged.

“The diversity of views is considered a ‘nikmat’ (blessing),” he said, adding that there was little use in being a “yes-man”.

The “herd” mentality, he said, should in fact be scrapped at all levels of society.

He said judgments should be read as a whole, including any dissenting judgments, and those reading them should feel free to form their own views.