By Andrew Khoo, Bar Council member and Co–Chairperson, Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee
Keynote Address by His Royal Highness Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah
Sultan of Perak Darul Ridzuan
Malaysia needs to adopt a “whole–of–society” approach in addressing the challenge of preserving, promoting and protecting the rule of law.
So said HRH Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah, in delivering the Keynote Address at the opening of the International MalaysiaLaw Conference 2018. HRH Sultan Nazrin recalled an anecdote regarding 17th–century judge Sir Edward Coke, as told by Justice Michael Kirby from Australia. Sir Edward had the difficult task of reminding King James I of England that even the King was subject to the rule of law. For this, he was dismissed from the Court of the King’s Bench. However Coke eventually returned to London as a pa rliamentarian to become a strong and ardent fighter and jurist defending the rule of law and opposing the rule of tyranny.
Malaysia needs more people in the vein of Sir Edward Coke to stand up for the rule of law; in effect, modern rulers require modern Cokes to oppose them. HRH Sultan Nazrin takes the view that democracy does not stop at elections and the ballot box. Existing voter education seems only to focus on the holding of free and fair elections. However, the rule of law and the administration of justice mean much more, and are far too important to be left to a few jurists, lawyers and civil society activists, who often bravely bear the brunt of reprisals from undemocratic governments.
He chided segments of the adult and voting population who excused themselves from this responsibility. It is critical to the success or longevity of reforms to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, that everyone play their role. The whole of society needs to be involved, and individuals and people acting collectively, civil society, academia and the media also have a role to play and a part to perform. Democracy itself, without strong rule of law, is just demagoguery by another name. It is the rule of law that lays down boundaries of behaviour where none could trespass without penalty.
However, HRH Sultan Nazrin also cautioned that a robust rule of law means that one cannot pick and choose between judicial decisions. The development of an innate respect for the rule of law and for legal institutions means that rulings that contravene a person’s own interests still have to be respected. That is the essence of what is meant by “Kedaulatan Undang–Undang”, which is one of the five tenets of the Rukunegara.
HRH Sultan Nazrin expressed the hope that when the year 2018 is reviewed in the Freedom House’s findings, Malaysia will be seen as a country in which the rule of law has progressed rather than retreated. He also referred to the International Commission of Jurists’s observation of growing encroachments on civil liberties, marginalisation and scapegoating of certain religious or ethnic groups, and the wielding of authoritarian power behind a façade of democracy.
HRH Sultan Azlan reiterated that for the rule of law to be restored, there has to be a complete and effective implementation of the doctrine of separation of powers within the governing system. The executive, legislature and judiciary must work as a check and balance against each other. Even in the case of the legislature, bipartisan parliamentary committees, should be given due attention by the executive. He called on parliamentarians to remember that their primary duty is to the nation, not their political party.
Another fundamental principle was judicial independence, especially and essentially judicial oversight and review of constitutional and administrative law and practice on matters of national and public interest. HRH Sultan Nazrin called for a judiciary that is diverse, encompassing a range of gender, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
A third pillar was the accession to and ratification of existing international instruments and a removal of existing reservations and derogations. There must be sincere and strenuous endeavours to undertake the necessary reforms to achieve closer compliance with universal human rights and norms. HRH Sultan Nazrin called on the Malaysian Government to accede to international human rights instruments that we are yet to be a party to, and specifically mentioned the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and its Optional Protocol. There should also be better and closer cooperation at the international level, including in matters of international prosecutorial and judicial cooperation, under the United Nations Convention against Corruption.
If Malaysia had more “modern Cokes”, that would give the country reason to be more optimistic about our global future.
here for more news about IMLC 2018.