Straits Times (Used by permission)
by V. Anbalagan, Anis Ibrahim and June Ramli
PM announces reforms to revitalise judiciary.
KUALA LUMPUR: A new chapter for the Malaysian judiciary has
One: A Judicial Appointments Commission will be appointed to nominate, appoint and promote judges in a transparent and representative manner.
Two: The 1988 upheaval of the judicial system is laid to rest with acknowledgement of "the pain and loss" suffered by the late Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcader and Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawanteh and their families, Tun Salleh Abas, Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin, Tan Sri Wan Hamzah Mohamed Salleh and Datuk George Seah.
Before a glittering audience of who's who of the Malaysian Bar, Salleh, Azmi and
Seah, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was roundly applauded as
he announced the two gigantic steps to redeem the judiciary.
"The process to bring about this change will begin now and I assure all of you here today that consultation on the workings and the structure of the commission will involve primary stakeholders. All will have a chance to provide their input to the government."
The commission, he said, would identify and recommend candidates for the judiciary to the prime minister.
"While the constitutional prerogative of the prime minister to put forward names to the Yang di–Pertuan Agong will remain, the commission will help to evaluate and vet candidates in a systematic and credible manner for the prime minister, based on clearly– defined criteria."
In addition, he said, the government would initiate a review of the judiciary's terms of service and remuneration.
"There is a pressing need to set salaries and compensation to the right levels to ensure that the bench can attract and retain the very best of the nation's talent."
Abdullah said details of the comprehensive package of reforms to strengthen the capacity and credibility of the judiciary would be announced in due course.
The loudest cheers for the prime minister at the Bar Council dinner came when he went back to the events of 1988 and paid the highest compliments to the six judges by describing them as towering judicial personalities who represented a very different era for the nation's judiciary.
"Many felt that the judiciary then was a venerable institution which could be trusted to deliver justice. Some even hailed Malaysia's judiciary as a model for other countries –– independent and credible.
"Therefore, the government would like to recognise the contributions of these six judges to the nation, their commitment towards upholding justice and to acknowledge the pain and loss they have endured.
"For Tan Sri Eusoffe and Tan Sri Wan Suleiman and their families, I know this sentiment is made too late.
"For Tun Salleh Abas, Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin, Tan Sri Wan Hamzah and Datuk George Seah, although this acknowledgement is 20 years too late, it is made with much hope that a measure of the pain and loss may yet be healed."
In recognition of the contributions of the six outstanding judges, Abdullah said the government had decided to make goodwill ex gratia payments to them.
"Gentlemen, I do not presume to equate your contributions, pain and loss with mere currency, but I hope that you could accept this as a heartfelt and sincere gesture to mend what has been."
In urging for a closure to the painful 1988 crisis, the prime minister said: "I do not think it wise or helpful to revisit past decisions as it would only serve to prolong the sense of crisis –– something our nation can do without.
"The rakyat wants movement and progress, not continuing strife."
Abdullah said these were merely the first steps to renew the public's trust in the judiciary and to ensure that justice was consistently delivered.
"I humbly seek your support for these measures.
"Now it is for all parties concerned –– the judiciary, the Bar, civil society and the public –– to also play their roles in facilitating these reforms.
"Whatever our differences, we share the same idealism for our nation's judiciary. Let us work through our differences.
"It is my hope that this becomes part of a bigger process to further strengthen our democratic institutions step by step, resolving intractable problems that have stood in the way of genuine nation–building. Let us write this proud and new chapter together."
Wan Suleiman and and Eusoffe's families were among the guests. So was Seah's youngest son, Basil.
Other notable guests at the Bar Council dinner were opposition leaders, including Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, Pas deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa and its secretary–general Datuk Kamaruddin Jaffar.
Also present were Abdullah's wife Datin Seri Jeanne Abdullah, Chief Justice Datuk Abdul Hamid Mohamad, Court of Appeal President Tan Sri Zaki Azmi, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, former chief justice Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah, Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, Attorney–General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, and Advocate and Solicitors disciplinary board chairman Tan Sri Khalid Ahmad Sulaiman.
Among the foreign dignitaries were United States ambassador to Malaysia James R. Keith and US judge James Baker.
Retired judges present included former Court of Appeal judges Datuk K.C. Vohrah and Datuk N.H. Chan.
Abdullah acknowledged that the level of trust and respect for the judiciary was no longer as strong as it was before.
"The business community, in particular, has voiced concerns about the fairness and capacity of Malaysia's judiciary in settling disputes. This has directly affected perceptions of our country's economic competitiveness."
He said the debates and arguments on the state of the judiciary have been heated and protracted.
"Some of the Malay rulers have openly voiced their disquiet on what they see as a decline, requiring nothing short of a judicial renaissance.
"Some retired judges have related troubling tales of impropriety. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have called for reform of this most august institution.
"Even the Bar Council, true to form, has marched en masse outside my office."
Abdullah acknowledged that the 1988 events fuelled much of the disagreement on how to move on, but he urged for closure.
"I can say with a clear conscience that I abided and will continue to abide by the principle of separation of powers, leaving the matter of justice to the judiciary."
When the prime minister finished his speech, the applause was long. And the standing ovation was deserved.
A new dawn for the judiciary and for the country has begun.
Bar Council applauds move
KUALA LUMPUR: The Bar Council was over the moon when the prime minister announced the impending formation of the Judicial Appointment Commission.
All the lawyers applauded loudly.
Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan said: "This is what we have been fighting for for so many years.
"We are all delighted with the announcement."
She said no one needed to fear the formation of the commission.
"We can act quickly. Everybody's concern should be addressed.
"The judiciary should be consulted and I am sure we can suggest the appropriate model for the commission."
But the loudest cheer was when Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi referred to the 1988 judicial crisis and gave details of how he wanted to bring closure to the darkest hours of the institution.
"We are delighted with the statement on ex gratia. This is due recognition of what happened in 1988.
"No one is pretending about 1988 anymore.
"Tonight, we called a spade a spade, so now we can move on."
On the issue of an apology, Ambiga said it was up to the judges to decide if one was needed.
"For us, it is not a legal issue. We wanted a recognition that something wrong happened in 1988. To me, that is enough."
1988 crisis triggered by 'Umno 11' after party polls
THE 1988 crisis can be traced back to the 1987 Umno election when 11 members sought to nullify the party election results after the then Umno president and prime minister, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad (now Tun), retained his post.
The 11 were supporters of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who had
challenged Dr Mahathir for the presidency.
Their contention was the election results should be nullified since some of the party's delegates came from branches which had not been registered under the Societies Act.
Judge Datuk Harun Hashim, who presided over the case, decided in their favour and declared Umno an "unlawful society",
In 2006, Tun Salleh Abas set out the incidents which he claims led to his sacking.
He said he was called to Dr Mahathir's office following the "Umno
11" case and was accused of being biased in the discharge of his judicial
Salleh wrote to the then Yang di–Pertuan Agong on behalf of the judiciary, expressing disappointment about accusations Dr Mahathir had made against the judiciary.
In May 1988, Salleh was suspended and then chief judge of Malaya Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Omar was appointed acting lord president.
Salleh was charged with misconduct before a tribunal chaired by Hamid.
Salleh filed a suit to challenge the constitutionality of the tribunal.
He also applied for an interim stay against the tribunal, but it was denied.
Meanwhile, then Supreme Court judges Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin, Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcader, Tan Sri Wan Hamzah Mohamed Salleh, Tan Sri Wan Sulaiman Pa–wanteh and Datuk George Seah convened and granted Salleh his interim order.
This order was, however, set aside and on Aug 8, 1988, Salleh was removed from the post of lord president.
The five judges who had granted the interim order against the tribunal were suspended.
In October 1988, Wan Sulaiman and Seah were sacked while the three other judges were reinstated.
Need to rebuild integrity of judiciary
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will never again see judges punished and thrown into ignominy and shame for doing their rightful job. This is the hope of Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.
"I must tell you that when I was young, the movie that moved
me most was Love Story.
"It is where I felt, for the first time, that love meant never having to say you're sorry.
"But we love you Tun (Salleh Abas) and make amends we will. We have to rebuild the integrity and competency of the judiciary.
"We must have a backbone of men and women who are respected and capable to build confidence in the legal system.
"The judges, too, must be prepared to be judged and be
subject to scrutiny.
"If we can do all this, then the pain and suffering of former judges will not have been in vain."
Zaid, who was speaking at the Bar Council dinner last night, also thanked members of parliament of Barisan Nasional and opposition parties who attended the dinner yesterday.
"To introduce fundamental reforms, will not be easy but the country needs it and the people want it.
"In today's political arithmetic, we may need the support of the opposition to pass certain bills. We may even need to amend the Constitution.
"I also believe the prime minister can and will do all he can to soothe scars and heal the wounds. I believe he can bring about a new kind of trust."
On the Bar Council, Zaid hoped that they would be able to work together.
"We will continue to have our differences. However, I don't always regard those who have a different opinion from mine as my enemies. In fact, on many occasions it is friends who betray.
"I respectfully trust that the Bar will continue to be a responsible critic, to support where support is due, not to criticise but to help create.
"For many years, the Bar has been maligned by those who don't believe in the rule of law. They have perceived the Bar as anti–government.
"We must remember the words of Tun Suffian who reminded us, the two essentials of the rule of law, the independence of the Bar and the independence of the judiciary.
"There is no other duty that is more honourable and close to my heart than a role in the effort to shape a fair judiciary system."