Legal eagles hail Tengku Maimun’s appointment as top judge

Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Lawyers and a retired judge have hailed the appointment of Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat as chief justice, saying she is well qualified to lead the judiciary.

Former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram said Tengku Maimun, 59, has wide experience as a chief registrar of the Federal Court where she served during the tenure of ex-chief justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim.

“So she knows how the system works,” he said, adding that Tengku Maimun, who will hold the post for about seven years, would be the youngest chief justice since Suffian Mohamed Hashim who served from 1974 to 1982.

Sri Ram said Tengku Maimun is known as a fair judge in criminal cases although he noted that not much is known of her approach to constitutional interpretations except for one judgment in the Court of Appeal where she gave a narrow interpretation of the word “law”.

“It is important that the chief justice leads the judicial philosophy on defending and protecting the Federal Constitution in all its aspects irrespective of personal preferences,” he added.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister’s Office announced Tengku Maimun as the new chief justice, succeeding Richard Malanjum whose tenure ended on April 12.

Malaysian Bar immediate past president George Varughese welcomed her appointment and voiced confidence that her elevation would be accepted by all quarters, especially lawyers.

“Her Ladyship is known for her sound decisions, impeccable judicial temperament and, most of all, her independence,” he said, adding that her promotion augurs well especially for the reform of the judiciary.

Senior lawyer V Sithambaram said the chief justice is the pillar of the justice system and the seven years in office would give Tengku Maimun the opportunity to continue the reforms started by Malanjum.

He said Tengku Maimun had always been courteous to parties appearing before her, whether as a single judge in the High Court or as chair of the three-member Court of Appeal bench.

“I have found that lawyers will leave her court, whatever the outcome, feeling that they were given a good hearing before a decision is handed out,” he said.

Sithambaram, who is now an ad hoc prosecutor in Najib Razak’s SRC International trial, said Tengku Maimun is also a prolific writer as seen through her contributions to law journals.

“This is a necessary attribute of a good judge as she is also known to provide written grounds in the English language and that without much delay,” he added.

Tengku Maimun was appointed as a judicial commissioner in 2006 and confirmed as a High Court judge the following year.

She was elevated to the Court of Appeal in 2013 and made a Federal Court judge on Nov 26, 2018.

Tengku Maimun is best known for allowing the late Karpal Singh’s appeal in 2016 although she was in the minority after the politician was convicted by the High Court of sedition.

She also led the three-member Court of Appeal bench that made the unanimous landmark ruling that a Muslim child conceived out of wedlock can take on his or her father’s surname.