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Cry for judiciary – first time in 50 years, a Minister for Chief Justice when seven years ago, the then Chief Justice said there was no Minister looking after the judiciary and ridiculed Nazri’s predecessor as “Minister for tables and chairs”
(Parliament, Tuesday) : Cry for the judiciary – for the first time in 50 years, there is a Minister for the Chief Justice when seven years ago, the then Chief Justice declared that there was no Minister looking after the judiciary and ridiculed the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of the law and justice portfolio as Minister for “tables and chairs” for the courts!
Yesterday, when trying to explain why he had issued a denial on behalf of the Chief Justice, Tun Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim in connection with the Lingam Tape, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Nazri Aziz said that this was because “I am his minister”.
He said: “I am his minister. I am the minister in charge of legal affairs. He is clever enough to know that the reporters will ask me for a response.”
In one fell swoop, Nazri had not only reduced the Chief Justice to that of a subordinate junior but also repudiated the cardinal principle of the independence of the Judiciary and destroyed the fundamental doctrine of the separation of powers among the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary.
In the five decades of nationhood, the Minister delegated the law and justice portfolio by the Prime Minister was never regarded as a Minister for the judges because of the doctrine of separation of powers of the three branches of government and the principle of the independence of the judiciary.
In June 2000, Malaysians were offered a glimpse of judicial goings-on when the contretemps between the then Chief Justice of the Federal Court, Tun Eusoffe Chin and the then Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim erupted after the latter chastised the former for his improper judicial behaviour in "socialising" with lawyer Datuk V.K. Lingam during a New Zealand holiday in 1994.
Eusoffe said he coincidentally "bumped" into Lingam when holidaying in New Zealand, and relegated Rais to a Minister for "tables and chairs" for the Chief Registrar’s Office and not law.
Eusuff said: "I suppose when we need tables and chairs or a new courtroom, we go to him." He stressed that the minister "doesn’t look after the judiciary". (Star 7.6.00).
However, there seems to be a sea change seven years later, and Nazri has arrogated to himself a position, which is recognized by the Chief Justice, of the status of Minister for the Chief Justice and the judiciary – when in 2000 such a Minister was “only in charge of the Chief Registrar's office relating to logistical matters”! (New Straits Times 7.6.2000)
For agreeing to subordinate the position of the Chief Justice to the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of law and order, and unconstitutionally reducing the judiciary to a subservient position to the Executive, Ahmad Fairuz has committed a gross judicial misconduct bringing the judiciary into disrepute, both nationally and internationally.
This is sufficient ground to refer Ahmad Fairuz to a Judicial Tribunal to ask him to show cause why he should not be dismissed as Chief Justice!
Since the arbitrary and unconstitutional 1988 sacking of Tun Salleh Abas as Lord President and Datuk George Seah and the late Tan Sri Wan Sulaiman as Supreme Court judges, Malaysia has never really recovered from a series of body blows to the independence, impartiality, integrity and professionalism of the judiciary for almost two decades.
Malaysians had hoped that Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will as Prime Minister usher in a change and fully restore national and international confidence in the Malaysian system of justice with a truly independent judiciary and a just rule of law – but Abdullah had failed to deliver this promise in the past four years to the extent that more and more Malaysians are looking to the Conference of Rulers to provide the final checks and balances against abuses and misuses of power which should have been spelt out in built-in provisions in the system itself.
The problem of the crisis of confidence in the judiciary are not on all fours with those of the previous administration. Just one instance.
In the previous administration, the judiciary lost its independence, impartiality and integrity because it was held in thrall by one man, the Prime Minister, but this judicial subservience was not extended to the Cabinet or other Ministers.
This was why there was the 2000 farce of the then Chief Justice bristling at the criticism of the then Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of the law and justice portfolio, publicly reprimanding the Minister that he had no responsibility over the judiciary but only for the “tables and chairs” required by the Court Registry!
Today, however, the Chief Justice seems to have accepted a much lowly position - that he is even subordinate or answerable to the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department to the extent that Nazri can unabashedly claim in public: “I am his Minister”. This is a notion none of Nazri’s predecessors, whether Rais Yatim or Datuk Mohd Radzi would have been so presumptuous to entertain, whether publicly or privately!
Nazri’s explanation as to why Ahmad Fairuz evaded the media was another “gem”. Nazri said it was because Ahmad Fairuz is not answerable to the press.
If true, then this is another indictment as to why Ahmad Fairuz is not fit to continue as Chief Justice, as he clearly had never heard and does not understand the meaning of judicial accountability.
I am reminded of his shocking comment early this year, likening the proposal for an independent judicial commission on appointment and promotion of judges as akin to nudity rather than transparency.
In his four years as Chief Justice, Ahmad Fairuz has failed on both scores of judicial accountability and transparency.
The Prime Minister and the Cabinet must not abdicate from their responsibility to end the hemorrhage of national and international confidence in the independence, impartiality, integrity and professionalism of the judiciary as it is a major handicap in Malaysia’s efforts to enhance international competitiveness to face the challenges of globalization.
The Cabinet tomorrow must address not only the scandal of Lingam Tape but the crisis of confidence in the system of justice by give a quick and positive response to public demands for a Royal Commission of Inquiry for a world-class judiciary respected internationally for its independence, impartiality, integrity and professionalism.
Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic
Planning Commission Chairman