PETALING JAYA: Twelve of 26 Court of Appeal judges could be in the running to fill four existing and expected vacancies in the Federal Court.
Based on seniority they are Yaacob Md Sam, Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil, Suraya Othman, Hanipah Farikullah, Kamaludin Md Said, Nor Bee Ariffin, Has Zanah Mehat, Lee Swee Seng, Azizah Nawawi, Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera, Abu Bakar Jais and M Nantha Balan.
Last week, the most senior Federal Court judge, Zawawi Salleh, retired after a six-month extension given by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
Earlier, in May, another apex court judge, Zaleha Yusof, retired.
Another two vacancies will arise when Chief Judge of Malaya Azahar Mohamed and Court of Appeal president Rohana Yusuf leave office in October and November, respectively.
This is because two Federal Court judges will be elevated to these two administrative posts.
This means, four Court of Appeal judges will likely be picked to fill the vacancies in the Federal Court, though nothing stops the prime minister from picking senior lawyers from the Bar.
According to procedure, the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), chaired by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, will meet to propose the names to be sent to the prime minister’s office.
As required under Article 122B of the Federal Constitution, the King appoints judges acting on the advice of the prime minister after consulting the Conference of Rulers.
A former JAC member said the selection criteria includes integrity, competency, experience, the ability to make timely judgments, and good writing skills.
“Seniority is a factor that will be considered for elevation to the apex court, too” said the former member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He said the JAC was more inclined to look for judges from within the judiciary for elevation.
Former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram said the Federal Court needed writers and thinkers and not mere passengers.
“It is a policy making court and a constitutional court. Its decision binds every other court below,” he said.
Sri Ram said Yaacob, who was chairman and member of the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC), should be elevated as he had a good track record of writing judgments.
He said Hanipah, Vazeer Alam and Nantha Balan were other good choices.
“In her capacity as chief justice, Tengku Maimun will have the records and conduct of all judges before the JAC makes proposals,” he said, adding that there should be no executive interference.
Sri Ram, who was directly promoted to the Court of Appeal from being a lawyer in 1994, said there was no reason to look for candidates outside the ranks of the judiciary as there were now sufficiently-talented candidates for promotion.
“At one time, an outsider was brought in as the morale and public confidence in the judiciary was low,” he said, alluding to the appointment of lawyer Zaki Azmi as a Federal Court judge in 2007. Zaki was made the chief justice the following year.
Sri Ram said Zaki, who retired in 2011, contributed towards clearing the backlog of cases.