PETALING JAYA: Former Malaysian Bar presidents have called for the royal commission of inquiry (RCI) into alleged judicial misconduct to be confined to the claims made by Court of Appeal judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer in his affidavit.
They said this would limit the terms of reference and protect honest judges as well as the reputation of the bench.
They also suggested that the RCI complement the five-member Institutional Reform Committee which submitted a report to the government last year on reforms in the judiciary.
“Anything beyond that (the allegations) will result in the RCI proceeding dragging on,” Khutubul Zaman Bukhari told FMT, adding that a public hearing should be completed within a month.
He also suggested that the RCI be allowed to call witnesses from members of the public if they had been victims of judicial impropriety.
On the composition of the RCI, he said the government should consider a wide range of individuals such as retired judges, senior lawyers, former attorney-generals, senior civil servants and members of civil society.
“A composition from diverse backgrounds will contribute to enhancing the independence of the judiciary,” he said.
The government last week approved the formation of an RCI into the allegations by Hamid in his 65-page document claiming judicial misconduct and interference by top judges.
Hamid’s affidavit, which went viral, was filed in support of lawyer Sangeet Kaur Deo’s court application seeking a declaration that Chief Justice Richard Malanjum had failed in his duty to complete investigations into two widely publicised cases of judicial interference.
Attorney-General Tommy Thomas has been tasked with drafting the terms and references of the RCI, and to suggest to the government the composition of the tribunal.
Ragunath Kesavan said wider terms of reference would cause the RCI to take longer to complete its task.
He said this would be a disservice to the judiciary, which would be in the spotlight for the wrong reason.
“We should also consider the reputation of the honest judges and the bench,” he said.
“To paint a negative picture that the judiciary is in a mess would be unfair.”
He added that Pakatan Harapan would have a rough idea of how to improve the judiciary after this as the committee led by retired judges had put forward suggestions after meeting with stakeholders.
“I believe the committee would have suggested the limited function the prime minister should have in the appointment of judges and a bigger role for the Judicial Appointments Commission,” he said.
The committee was chaired by retired Court of Appeal judge K C Vohrah. Other members were National Patriots Association president Mohamed Arshad Raji; professor of law at Universiti Malaya, Shad Saleem Faruqi; and former Malaysian Bar presidents Mah Weng Kwai and Ambiga Sreenevasan.
Another former Bar president, Zainur Zakaria, said the RCI should not “go on a frolic of its own” to inquire into “unrelated matters”.
He, along with Ragunath and Khutubul, said the RCI should comprise local personalities who understand the circumstances surrounding the issue, and who could make suggestions to strengthen the judiciary.
They could also submit proposals for further investigations by law enforcement agencies, if necessary, they said.