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Abdullah should chair the next Cabinet meeting to disband the three-man panel and establish Royal Commission of Inquiry into Lingam Tape scandal and the entire issue of independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary
(Parliament, Saturday) : The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi must reconsider and set up urgently a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Lingam Tape scandal as the three-man panel chaired by Tan Sri Haidar Mohamed Noor, tainted by his role in the 1988 judicial crisis, is just untenable and unacceptable.
Haidar has still to satisfactorily account for his role in the infamous episode in the 1988 judicial crisis where as Supreme Court Chief Registrar, he locked the doors of the Supreme Court and concealed the Supreme Court seal to frustrate the course of justice and prevent the Supreme Court from issuing an injunction to stop the Judicial Tribunal from continuing with its proceedings to discipline the then Lord President Tun Salleh Abas – which also led to the subsequent expulsion of Datuk George Seah and the late Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawanteh as Supreme Court judges.
This unsavoury episode can be found both in Salleh Abas’ “May Day for Justice” as well as “Freedom under Executive Power in Malaysia” by the Minister for Culture, Arts and Heritage, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim, who was formerly Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of law and justice.
However, an even more important consideration as to why there must be a Royal Commission of Inquiry is that the issue which has shattered public confidence and caused the “March for Justice” of some 2,000 lawyers last Wednesday was not just the Lingam Tape, but the even more important issue of the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary and the rot in the system of justice since 1988.
University of Malaya law lecturer Azmi Sharom put it very well when he wrote in his Star column today “Judiciary must be protected”:
Our judiciary has not been in the pink of health, especially since the sacking of Tun Salleh Abbas as Lord President in 1988.
Since then the impartiality, the independence and the basic honesty of the judiciary have been questioned time and time again.
Two major concerns are the method by which judges are appointed and related to this, the vital question as to whether the judiciary is truly free from executive interference. These are fears that strike to the heart of a democratic system.
Without the checks and balances that having three separate branches of government – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – provides, one cannot say that there is a true democracy.
And one cannot say with any certainty that the law will protect the citizens from any sort of despotic behaviour.
This sad lack of faith in the judicial system (which is the penultimate defender of democracy and the citizenry) has been with us for nearly 20 years.
There has been much talk, but this time the lawyers decided that a physical show of their disapproval was needed. Why did this happen?
Well, the straw that broke the barristers’ back is the infamous videotape showing a senior lawyer on the phone with, apparently, a senior judge. This lawyer can be seen and heard discussing how he was trying to broker the appointment of said judge to the highest judicial post in the country.
Suddenly what has been the subject of talk and whispers has taken solid form, to be viewed again and again on our own computer screens.
The appointment of judges has been reduced to tawdry politicking and power play involving politicians and wealthy businessmen. It was too much to bear. And the legal fraternity had to take to the streets or lose its own credibility.
Their demand is simple. The government has to set up a Royal Commission with the necessary powers to thoroughly investigate the entire judiciary. There is a desperate need to clean house and to do so comprehensively.
The decision for a three-man panel over the authenticity of the Lingam Tape is bad and wrong and will redound to the discredit of the Abdullah administration, which has pledged reform and integrity.
It is not too late for Abdullah to undo the harm which the bad decision over the three-man panel can do both to the judiciary and the nation in terms of adversely affecting our international competitiveness.
Heed the wisdom of what Azmi wrote – that apart from the legitimacy or the video recording, a Royal Commission is needed now to determine the legitimacy of the entire judiciary!
Abdullah was not present at the Cabinet meeting last Wednesday as he had left for the United Nations although the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced the establishment of the three-man panel the day before the Cabinet met.
Abdullah should chair the Cabinet meeting next Wednesday to take the right and proper decision to disband the three-man panel and replace it with a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Lingam Tape scandal and the entire issue of the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary. This would be a decision which would receive all-round support, both nationally and internationally.
Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic
Planning Commission Chairman
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman