September 10, 2014
Restoring Faith in the Judiciary’s integrity
Malaysia’s Judiciary has taken a severe beating in the last few years in regard to its perceived lack of fairness and lack of adherence to justice. Notorious cases such as those involving Lina Joy, Anwar Ibrahim and Nizar vs Zambry among others have raised doubts as to whether our judges – especially in cases with politically sensitive outcomes – are able to arrive at fair and just decisions.
Public concern that our courts – including at the highest level – may in fact be filled with partisan, unfair or even corrupt judges, has been rising non-stop since the Mahathir period. This includes the present batch of ridiculous sedition cases which have made the Attorney-General’s Chambers (pic The A-G) a laughing stock among knowledgeable legal circles all over the world. It has also led many to conclude that the Malaysian Judiciary is under tremendous political pressure when arriving at their judgements.
Why are there incompetent judges?
The highly respected former Court of Appeal judge N H Chan (right) when commenting on the number of incompetent judges in Malaysia concluded that there was something very wrong with our system of appointing judges.
Many people from the legal fraternity tend to agree with him. There was a time when judges were appointed from the cream of the legal profession and the law departments in our universities produced graduates who knew their law in-depth.
With the decline in educational standards especially after the implementation of the New Economic Policy, it became inevitable that the standard of law graduates in the country – and with it, also the standard of judges recruited to administer justice – would also fall.
Apart from the decline in educational standards, the factor of politically biased appointments has played a role. The Lingam (pic left) case and the shocking disclosures arising from the Royal Commission of Inquiry in particular showed clearly that the appointment of judges in the country has been tainted; and that there was evidence of ethical and criminal misconduct by lawyer Lingam, various judges, politicians and businessmen on the matter of judicial appointments.
Despite this finding, the Attorney-General chose not to put Lingam in the dock. This was not because no law had been broken but because of the fear that the skeletons that would emerge from the closet would bring down the government.
We are still living with the legacy of a compromised Judiciary and the dark shadows cast by prominent members of the judiciary who are more interested in the pursuit of power and self interest rather than with the pursuit of justice.
Importance of the Teoh Beng Hock case
However, every now and then, a verdict comes from out of the blue which shows that there are also good and honourable judges in the system who are not interested in the pursuit of power and self interest and who are willing to stand firm in the administration of impartial and principled justice. The most recent example arrived in the form of the Teoh Beng Hock case, a landmark case, which has riveted the nation for over five years now.Members of the public who were expecting this case to go unpunished by our judiciary were pleasantly surprised to see this was not to be.
As a result of the latest Court of Appeal verdict, we see on social media praises heaped on the three appeal court judges – Ariff Yusuf, Mah Weng Kwai and Hamid Sutan for striking down the earlier open verdict and refusing to set aside the coroner’s open verdict in the inquest of Teoh Beng Hock.
In their unanimous decision, the panel of judges held that Teoh’s death was caused by multiple injuries from a fall from the 14th floor of Plaza Masalam as a result of, or which was accelerated by an unlawful act or acts of persons unknown, inclusive of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) officers who were involved in his arrest and investigation.
Police must start investigations
Teoh’s sister, Lee Lan has since lodged a report at the Shah Alam Police Headquarters to speed up police investigations. The Police must remember that several MACC officers caused the death of Teoh and the culprits must be caught and punished adequately.
Whatever happens next, it is important that we should not lose faith in the integrity of our Judiciary which forms the first line of defence in the protection of our constitutional rights.It is not only judges who must exercise vigilance so that their independence is not compromised by political, legislative and other pressures, it is all Malaysians who must stand firm so that there is no political or executive interference with the judicial process.