Ex-judge: Amend constitution to allow top 4 judges to remain till age 70

Gopal Sri Ram

PETALING JAYA: A retired judge has suggested that Putrajaya amend the Federal Constitution to enable the four top judges to remain in office until 70 to continue with their judicial reform.

Gopal Sri Ram said the government could obtain the two-thirds majority needed in the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara as the proposal was for the good of the country.

“The opposition will support the amendment since it’s apolitical,” he told FMT.

Sri Ram said this in response to a big vacuum that would occur after all the four top judges retire in rapid succession next year.

Judges retire at 66, with an option to serve an additional six months if approved by the king.

Chief Justice Richard Malanjum will retire in April while Chief Judge of Malaya Zaharah Ibrahim will leave office in May, after both obtained the six-month extension.

Both were appointed to their current positions in July.

Court of Appeal president Ahmad Maarop and Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak David Wong Dak Wah will retire in May and August respectively.

Three Federal Court judges will also be retiring next year: Ramly Ali in February, Balia Yusof Wahi in March, and Alizatul Khir Osman Khairuddin in April. When they retire, the only senior Federal Court judge left will be Azahar Mohamed, who was elevated in 2014 and will retire in 2022.

The Federal Constitution allows a maximum 15 judges to be appointed to the Federal Court, including the top four administrators. Currently there is one vacancy following the retirement of Aziah Ali last month.

Six Court of Appeal judges, including three who were recently elevated to the Federal Court, are considered as juniors and lack the experience to hold administrative positions.

Sri Ram, who last served in the Federal Court, said the second alternative would be to get a senior lawyer from the Bar to be appointed chief justice after Malanjum retires.

“We have a precedent, in 2007, when Zaki Azmi was made a Federal Court judge before he finally assumed the post of chief justice the following year,” he said.

Sri Ram said the candidate, however, must be a good administrator, interested in law and must write good judgments.

The third alternative, he said, was to look for a serving judge to be appointed chief justice and that the candidate could even be sourced from the High Court.

“Here too there was a precedent when the then High Court judge Steve Shim was made a Federal Court judge in 2000 to assume the post of Chief Justice of Sabah and Sarawak,” he added.

Meanwhile, former Malaysian Bar president Ragunath Kesavan said too little in terms of reforms would be achieved if the tenure of those appointed to hold administrative positions was short.

He said the empty slots should be filled by individuals with integrity. “We need strong personalities who will only be subservient to the law and the constitution to be on the bench,” he said.

Ragunath said the potential candidates could also come from the ranks of senior lawyers, including from Sabah and Sarawak.

“I hope the Judicial Appointments Commission will discuss who is to be recommended to sit in the apex court with the attorney-general and the three Bars representing lawyers,” he said.

Ragunath said the judiciary at this juncture must command public confidence that it was an effective organ to check the excesses of the legislature and the executive.

“We also need Federal Court judges who can deliver quality judgments,” he said, adding that there had been cases of questionable verdicts which set a bad precedent.