My Lord Chief Justice;
Chief Judge of Malaya;
Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak;
The Honourable Attorney General and the State Attorney Generals;
The Honourable Minister and Deputy Minister from the Prime Minister’s Department (Law);
Honourable Judges of the Federal Court, Court of Appeal, and High Court, and Judicial Commissioners;
Distinguished Guests; and
Ladies and Gentlemen.
I have the distinct honour of being the first President of the Malaysian Bar to be accorded the privilege of addressing Your Lordship and this esteemed gathering on the occasion of the Opening of the Legal Year 2019 for the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak.
II. Reforms in the Judiciary
After the 14th General Election, the nation has been heading in the direction of change, renewal and reform. In this regard, it is heartening to note the changes implemented in the Judiciary by Your Lordship immediately after your appointment. A significant change is the engagement and consultation by Your Lordship and your fellow Office Bearers with the Malaysian Bar.
As an equal partner in the administration of justice, the Bar is not an adversary but a comrade–in–arms in our legal system. However, this change has yet to cascade down to all tiers of the Judiciary. Numerous instances and shades of the “death or near death” era are still prevalent.
When applications for adjournments on reasonable grounds are rejected, or when cases are fixed without taking into account the free dates of counsels, the ultimate bearers of these harsh decisions are the litigants, not the lawyers. Such decisions may lead to counsels having to withdraw from representing their clients, or referring the clients to other lawyers. This effectively means that the litigants are denied their right to be represented by counsels of their choice, as provided for in the Federal Constitution.
Whilst we must strive to improve on efficiency, statistics cannot be the yardstick for justice. As the saying goes, “Justice hurried is justice buried.” Litigants are entitled to have their cases argued, considered and deliberated upon properly, before a well–reasoned judgment is delivered.
In this regard, a notable and commendable reform introduced by Your Lordship when serving as the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak was the Mobile Court Programme in 2007, and later, the Mobile Courtroom, which uses specially modified buses and four–wheel drive vehicles that bear the logo “Justice For One and All”.
The mobile court is structured to provide exactly the same service one would get in a courtroom in a town, and also provides legal aid to persons living in rural areas.
In the dispensation of justice, public perception of the independence of the Judiciary cannot be overlooked. Judicial independence is sacrosanct, and forms the cornerstone of a fair and impartial Judiciary. The recent allegations of judicial interference in both the Indira Gandhi and Karpal Singh cases are very troubling, as they severely undermine public confidence in the Judiciary. The allegations also unfairly cast a shadow on the integrity and reputation of all past and current Office Bearers of the Judiciary and the Federal Court judges, and on the conscientious and scrupulous work of many good judges.
In light of the inconclusive findings of the Judiciary’s internal investigations into these allegations, due to the retirement of the judge concerned and other constraints, the Malaysian Bar reiterates our call for a Royal Commission of Inquiry to be established without delay. The Royal Commission of Inquiry should leave no stone unturned in its investigations, and make recommendations to stamp out improper practices as well as propose further reforms of the Judiciary.
The Malaysian Bar has a longstanding working relationship and close friendship with the Sabah Law Society and the Advocates Association of Sarawak, and will continue our cooperation for the betterment of the members of all three Bars. Apart from regular Tripartite meetings and games, the three Bars are in ongoing discussions on various issues of mutual interest and concern — for example, who should regulate lawyers from all three Bars who practise in Labuan, and how.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Judiciary in moving to this majestic new building, which has three ethnic elements of Kadazandusun, Bajau Laut and Murut in its design, and that also incorporates motifs of the Bunga Raya and Sabah’s official flower, the Rafflesia.
On behalf of the Malaysian Bar, I wish all members of the Judiciary, the Attorney General’s Chambers, and all my colleagues from Sabah Law Society and Advocates Association of Sarawak a happy new year and a productive legal year.
My Lord Chief Justice, I am much obliged.
18 January 2019