PETALING JAYA: A lawyer has come out in defence of former chief justice Arifin Zakaria, whose appointment to lead an inquiry into human trafficking and the mass graves found in Wang Kelian, Perlis, has been criticised by a lawyers’ group.
Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali said it was very unfair to pass judgment based on Arifin’s past record in the judiciary.
“This is a separate matter. Arifin will only lead a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) with other eminent persons to carry out their task as guided by the terms of reference,” he told FMT.
Rafique was responding to Lawyers For Liberty (LFL) adviser N Surendran, who said Arifin’s several decisions, during his tenure as the nation’s top judge, had received strong criticism from opposition leaders, and constitutional and human rights lawyers.
“It is important for Arifin to now state his stand over these past decisions and actions that are a cause of public concern in light of this appointment,” Surendran had said in a statement.
Arifin served as the chief justice for five years before stepping down on March 31, 2017.
Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who announced Arifin’s appointment to lead the RCI, said former inspector-general of police Norian Mai and six other members would assist him.
They will be given six months to look into the human trafficking camps and mass graves discovered in Wang Kelian in May 2015.
Surendran said Arifin’s track record included his decision in favour of Barisan Nasional’s Zambry Abdul Kadir in the Perak menteri besar crisis, and his role in leading the Federal Court bench which upheld the validity of the Sedition Act 1948 in the case of law professor Azmi Sharom.
He also cited Arifin’s role in upholding the sodomy conviction of PKR’s Anwar Ibrahim, and his advice to the king that Raus Sharif and Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin be appointed as additional judges in the Federal Court.
Rafique said besides carrying out his administrative duties as chief justice, Arifin had led a five-member bench but any ruling was a collective one.
“In any event, LFL should not be finding fault with the government when retired judges are picked to carry out a special task.
“In the past, LFL had been advocating RCIs and tribunals for public interest issues. They must be grateful for the positive steps taken by the Pakatan Harapan government,” he added.
Rafique said the Wang Kelian RCI was significant and Arifin, along with his team, must be given ample opportunity to decide and give recommendations to the government, based purely on facts and evidence adduced before them.