PUTRAJAYA: Newly appointed Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat foresees a challenge in maintaining public confidence in the judiciary, even as she begins her tenure.
Tengku Maimun, 59, said she would also need to manage the negative perception the public has against the judiciary.
On whether her job in reforming the judiciary would be more challenging – on the back of a damning affidavit on judicial misconduct and interference by Court of Appeal judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer – she admitted that in terms of perception, it would be so.
“In terms of perception, it would be challenging. But in real terms, it is not so, because it is a matter of perception.
“In real terms, it is not challenging because what happened is not based on fact. It is perception,” she told a press conference at the Palace of Justice today.
Hamid had reportedly made the claims of judicial impropriety at a law conference.
He also filed a 65-page affidavit in support of a suit brought by lawyer Sangeet Kaur Deo against anyone holding the position of chief justice, for failing to defend and preserve the integrity of the judiciary.
Sangeet filed the action following reports of judicial interference in the sedition appeal of her father, the late Karpal Singh, before the Court of Appeal in 2016.
Hamid alleged in the affidavit that senior judges had intervened in the decision on numerous appeals, including those involving Karpal and the unilateral conversion case brought by kindergarten teacher M Indira Gandhi.
He also claimed some judges had abetted in scams carried out by nominees of politicians who had entered into contracts with the government.
He alleged that once the government pulled out of a deal, the private parties would take the government to court to claim compensation.
On what had caused the negative perception towards the judiciary, Tengku Maimun cited social media as one of the reasons.
“Sometime, people write in social media on things they do not have actual knowledge of. This will then go viral,” she said.
On what is required to address this negative perception, Tengku Maimun said the media, especially the mainstream media, should play their role in reporting on cases accurately.
She also said that in public interest cases or important cases, summaries are prepared for the press to enable them to understand the judgment and the case better, rather than to give them the entire judgment.
“The media have the responsibility to report the case accurately,” she said.
On whether there had been orders by past chief justices in recommending the transfers of lower court judges, especially when they do not follow orders, she said this was not true.
She also denied ever receiving such orders.
“What you heard is not true. Secondly, why do we need to go back to the past, if there is at all any truth in it.
“What you heard of me getting the order is not true,” she said.
Tengku Maimun explained that the transfer of judges did not fall within the job scope of the chief justice but was that of the chief registrar, after consulting with the chief judge of Malaya or the chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak.
“The chief justice has nothing to do with the transfer of lower court officers. I was a chief registrar before.
“I never had to deal with the CJ in terms of transfer of officers. That is definitely not a correct position,” she said.
On the public perception that there are gender, ethnic, religion and regional disparities in the judiciary, Tengku Maimun disagreed with the notion.
“I do not agree. That is not a fair view.
“For instance, the recent appointment of judicial commissioners a few days ago. We managed to get candidates from diverse backgrounds,” she said.
On bringing reforms to the judiciary, Tengku Maimun said at this point, they will continue with whatever reforms started by her predecessor, Richard Malanjum.
“As for the others, which are in their infancy stage, we will begin their implementation and improve on them.
“Whatever that has not started, I would need to sit with the three other Federal Court judges before I can decide what areas need changes,” she said.