“Calls for judicial interference, AG change reminiscent of the dark days”

THE Malaysian Bar, the Advocates Association of Sarawak and the Sabah Law Society are appalled over news reports expressing calls by political figures for interference by the prime minister in the judicial process.  

Some have even gone as far as demanding direct interference in the Federal Court decision concerning the case of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and a change of the current attorney-general (AG). 

It is deeply disturbing that such calls to interfere in the judicial process or to replace the current AG are being made. We note that such calls are a blatant disregard for the principle of separation of powers and the entrenched constitutional democracy of Malaysia.   

Malaysia is a country that values the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches, as this provides checks and balances against one another. 

Datuk Seri Najib Razak (Photo credit: The Guardian) 

Obviously, any calls to interfere or to change personnel within the office of the chief justice and or the AG when one side loses in a court case is but a subjective call, as on the other side of the spectrum is a side that has no such misgivings. 

The primary duty of the AG is to uphold the integrity of the justice system within its powers under the Federal Constitution, and the primary duty of the judiciary is to interpret and give effect to the law.   

At the heart of the judiciary is the independence of judges to exercise their powers without any intrusion from individuals, entities or political parties.   

It is the judiciary that bears the responsibility of resolving disputes fairly in accordance with prevailing laws, not acquiescing to the requests of politicians or anyone else for that matter.   

“Sheer audacity” 

The sheer audacity of politicians in seeking the sitting prime minister’s interference in this case, if true, is unacceptable and preposterous. 

It bears reminding that the fundamental concepts of judicial independence and separation of powers between the three pillars of governance – the legislative, executive and judiciary — are basic hallmarks of any functioning democracy.  

These principles are integral to maintaining the rule of law, a concept best encapsulated in the words of one of the founding fathers of the US, James Madison: “The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” 

Political interference in any case – especially one of tremendous public interest – directly encroaches upon the functions and duties of the AG and the court.  

The unconstitutionality of such alleged behaviour will result in a grievous erosion of justice and will cast aspersions on the integrity of the AG and the judiciary.   

Such a petition by these politicians harks back to the dark days of the 1988 judicial crisis, which pitted the executive against the judiciary, and seemed to eviscerate the image of the judiciary as an independent pillar of governance.   

As a nation, Malaysia had witnessed an upheaval that culminated in the suspension and removal of the then-lord president (the office has since been renamed “chief justice”) Tun Salleh Abas and other judges, marking the beginning of a negative change in public perception towards the judiciary. 

Tun Salleh Abas (Photo credit: Astro Awani)

The Malaysian Bar, the Advocates Association of Sarawak and the Sabah Law Society condemn any act of politicians seeking an intervention by the prime minister in an ongoing matter before the judiciary, at all material points. 

We are also of the view that lawyers – whether involved in the matter or not – should not be making negative remarks to undermine a decision delivered by our Federal Court, which ought to be treated with the utmost respect, and especially when such remarks are legally unsound and have the effect of fomenting distrust in the judiciary among the rakyat.   

Such behaviour is a flagrant contempt and disrespect to the rule of law and the doctrine of separation of powers.   

It is pertinent to note that there have been instances in the past where politicians have been admonished, and some even charged for such actions to interfere, as these actions are considered an abuse of power and misfeasance of public duties. 

“Tantamount to attack on judicial independence” 

The acts by politicians in recent history openly discussing calls to interfere with the judiciary in legal actions erode faith in the judiciary and are deeply damaging to the rule of law in Malaysia. This sort of behaviour is tantamount to an attack on the independence of the judiciary.    

Politicians should not be making scurrilous remarks that only serve to perpetuate misgivings and suspicion amongst the rakyat towards our Judiciary.   

The time has come for politicians to understand their roles in perpetuating and strengthening the rule of law, including the doctrine of separation of powers, instead of turning Malaysia into a legal pariah where the rule of law is not sacrosanct and they can utter unjustifiable statements whenever they want to. 

We must never forget that it is the courts that we turn to for justice as they are the last bastion of hope and the final line of legal recourse available.  

The courts are beholden to no one but the law, and it is the duty of judges to dispense justice in a manner that is in accordance with the law, and not in accordance with the wishes of individuals or political parties.   

It would be a dark day indeed when the lines between our governing institutions are blurred. 

The Malaysian Bar, the Advocates Association of Sarawak and the Sabah Law Society trust that the prime minister will do the right thing and not act to the contrary, as that would be an unconscionable abuse of power and a travesty to justice. – Aug 30, 2022  


Karen Cheah Yee Lynn, Antonio Sim and Roger Chin are the presidents of the Malaysian Bar, Advocates Association of Sarawak and Sabah Law Society, respectively. 

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia. 


Main photo credit: The Star

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