by Lim Kit Siang in Parliament on Wednesday, 22nd October 2008:
Most controversial appointment as head of
judiciary in nation’s 51-year history – will Zaki vindicate all doubters
or prove them wrong by providing bold and visionary leadership for
judicial reform in next five years
Tan Sri Zaki Tun Azmi’s appointment as
Chief Justice of the Federal Court is the most controversial appointment
of the head of the judiciary in the nation’s 51-year history.
Never before in Malaysian judiciary had the possible appointment of the
new head of the judiciary been marked by more widespread reservations
and public objections than Zaki’s elevation as Chief Justice, because of
legitimate concerns about its adverse impact on fumbling efforts so far
to restore national and international confidence in the independence,
impartiality and integrity of the judiciary.
This was because of two reasons:
• Firstly, Zaki’s quintuple or five-step jump
up the judicial hierarchy in slightly over a year, being appointed
straight to the Federal Court without any earlier appointment as
High Court Judge and Court of Appeal Judge, then elevation as Court
of Appeal President and now Federal Court Chief Justice; and
• Secondly, Zaki’s close and long association
with UMNO as UMNO lawyers both for the party and its very intricate
and complex corporate network and affairs, as well as head of UMNO
In the past two decades after the arbitrarily
sacking of Tun Salleh Abas as Lord President in the 1988 “Mother of
Judicial Crisis”, the country has had five heads of the judiciary.
Unfortunately, three of the five, Tun Hamid Omar, Tun Eusoff Chin and
Tun Ahmad Fairuz had mired the judiciary and country even deeper in
national shame and international infamy – making efforts to restore
national and international confidence in the independence, impartiality
and integrity of the judiciary and return to its previous high
international esteem a most Herculean one.
This is why for instance the latest survey among expatriate business
executives in Asia by the Hong-Kong based Political and Economic Risks
Consultancy (Perc) last month found that Malaysia lagged behind even
South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines on which Asian country has the
best judicial system. Malaysia was ranked seventh while the first three
places went to Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.
Yesterday, a local survey of lawyers’
perception of the judiciary conducted by Transparency International
Malaysia (TI-M) gave a grim picture of the state of public confidence in
According to findings of a survey of 339
lawyers conducted in March and April, the judicial process and judicial
appointments are greatly subject to undue influence and judicial
authorities subject to corruption and bribery.
From the survey, 91% felt that the judicial
process in the superior courts (High Court, Court of Appeal and Federal
Court) was subject to various levels of undue influence from the
Government or others.
As to whether judicial authorities were
susceptible to accepting bribes to give favourable judgments, 94% said
However, only 15% thought they always took
The survey also found that 96% thought
judicial appointments were subject to influence.
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had promised
judicial reform to top his final short-list of three reforms, but it is
like shuttingthe stable door after the horses have bolted to now talk
about a Judicial Appointment Commission when Zaki’s appointment as Chief
Justice had been made without any nod or concession to the spirit of
With the most controversial appointment as head of judiciary in nation’s
51-year history now a fait accompli – the question is whether Zaki will
vindicate all doubters with the worst-scene judicial scenario or he
would prove them wrong by providing bold and visionary leadership for
judicial reform in the next five years.
Objectors to Zaki’s fast-track appointment as Chief Justice have two
options: firstly to invoke Article 127 of the Constitution to move a
substantive motion in Parliament with the support of at least
one-quarter of Members of Parliament, i.e. 55 MPs to discuss Zaki’s
appointment; or two, to give Zaki the opportunity to acquit himself and
prove that he has capable of taking full account of the widespread
reservations about his appointment to the process to restore public
confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the
judiciary after two decades of judicial darkness.
I am inclined to the latter but a public debate on the best option
before the country in the challenge to restore national and
international confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity
of the judiciary would be useful, pertinent and timely.
Kit Siang, DAP
Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor