HUMAN rights group, the Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (MADPET), wants Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to disclose whether the recent appointments of judges followed the recommendation of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) or otherwise.
This comes about following the recent appointment of new Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim, the new Chief Judge of Malaya Datuk Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah, and the new Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Datuk Abdul Rahman Sebli.
“There is a need for a speedy amendment of the Federal Constitution to remove the PM and replace it to an independent JAC,” MADPET’s co-founder Charles Hector pointed out.
“Recall that about 2,000 lawyers of the Malaysian Bar gathered at the entrance of the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya on Sept 26, 2007 before marching to the PM’s Office to deliver the Bar Council’s memorandum which among others called for an independent JAC to select/ appoint judges.”
As it is now, Article 122B(1) in the Federal Constitution in states that “The Chief Justice of the Federal Court, the President of the Court of Appeal and the Chief Judges of the High Courts and (subject to Article 122C) the other judges of the Federal Court, of the Court of Appeal and of the High Courts shall be appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister, after consulting the Conference of Rulers.”
Concern about the independence in the selection of judges surfaced recently following a video showing a lawyer discussing with a senior judge about appointments of judges.
The government has responded positively in the enactment JAC Act 2009 (Act 695) whereby the commission was to submit recommendations to the PM who is expected to follow the recommendation of the JAC and advice the King as such.
However, a task force in October 2022 alleged that four individuals appointed to the top judicial posts in July 2018 differed from those selected by the JAC) and conveyed to then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in June 2018.
“Given this and the possible disregard of the PM to the recommendation of the JAC, there is a need to amend the Federal Constitution to remove the role played by the PM in the selection and appointment of judges,” stressed Hector. “It should be replaced with the JAC directly advising the King.”
The conviction of the ex-premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak, and the fact that many members or former members of the Cabinet have pending cases in court, makes it all the more urgent to remove the prevailing public perception of executive involvement in the appointment of judges.
“Will judges chosen or elevated by the PM be seen to be independent in cases involving the PM, his Cabinet members or even the government?” asked Hector.
In recent times, PM Anwar himself has commenced several defamation suits in court, among others, against ex-premier Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Kuala Terengganu MP Datuk Ahmad Amzad Hashim, Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor and Perak PAS chief Razman Zakaria. There is also the case of Yusoff Rawther, a former research assistant to Anwar, claiming sexual assault against Anwar that is still pending in court.
“Noting the urgency and the current state of affairs, the Federal Constitution and the Judicial Appointments Commission Act 2009 must be speedily amended to remove the perception of executive involvement in the appointment and elevation of judges,” stressed Hector.
“The required Bills should be tabled now at the upcoming Parliamentary session and should be passed easily considering that Anwar does have the support of more than two-thirds of the MPs which is required for amendments of the Federal Constitution.” – Jan 19, 2023