Lawyers urge JAC to appoint more Bar members as judges to benefit judiciary

Richard Malanjum (right) and Zaki Azmi were among lawyers chosen to become judges and who retired as chief justices. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A former Malaysian Bar president has urged the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) to consider nominating more lawyers as judges in order to close the gulf of those coming from the Bar and the government.

George Varughese said there are about 21,500 lawyers from the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak. This was a big talent pool for the JAC to pick suitable candidates.

Government lawyers — deputy public prosecutors and the federal counsel — from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) only make up 2,000.

Varughese, however, said the current ratio from the Bar and AGC, as reflected in the Bench, was a total opposite.

Only two of the present 12 apex court judges and three of the 25 Court of Appeal judges come from the Bar while the rest come from the government.

The statistics of High Court judges and judicial commissioners are also sharply tilted toward those coming from the AGC and Sessions Court.

Varughese said this in response to two more vacancies that will exist in the Federal Court when judges Alizatul Khir Osman Khairuddin and Ahmad Maarop retire in the next two months.

There are already three vacancies in the 15-member apex court while there are seven empty slots in the 32-member Court of Appeal.

The JAC, chaired by the chief justice, functions to propose names for appointment and elevation to the prime minister, who will advise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, who will then make the appointment after consulting the Conference of Rulers.

George Varughese.

Varughese said the experience and expertise of lawyers would be of great assistance when the Bench delivered decisions on trust, equity, family and complex commercial law cases.

“Judges, who have been in private practice, will look at problems from a practical aspect as they have dealt with and represented clients in court,” he added.

Varughese said he also hoped the JAC would also consider elevating senior lawyers straight to the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court as there were precedents.

Lawyer Gopal Sri Ram was first elevated to the Court of Appeal in 1994 and he retired as a Federal Court judge in 2009.

Another lawyer, Zaki Azmi, was promoted straight to the Federal Court in 2007 and assumed the post of Court of Appeal president and retired as chief justice in 2011.

Others were ex-chief justices Richard Malanjum and Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah and former Court of Appeal president Wan Adnan Ismail.

Former Sabah Law Society president Brenndon Keith Soh also said the JAC must work towards having a balanced ratio of at least 50:50 coming from lawyers and the judicial and legal service.

“The experience and exposure of lawyers to work with those from the service will bring immense benefit to the Malaysian judiciary,” he added.

Lawyer Syed Iskandar Syed Jaafar Al-Mahdzar said judicial history had proven that judges who came from the Bar left an indelible mark as administrators or jurists.

“Some were noted for modernising the court system while others wrote visionary and celebrated judgements in criminal, civil and constitutional law,” he said.