A NON-GOVERNMENTAL orgniasation (NGO) has expressed concern about the independence of judicial commissioners (JCs) in light of former twice premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad failing to get the High Court’s permission to obtain certain documents that purportedly support his RM150 mil defamation lawsuit against Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Noting that the judge in that case was JC Zaharah Hussain (appointed to her post on Jan 17 this year), the Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (MADPET) is concerned that unlike judges, they do not have the security of tenure, and that they are “ultimately appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong acting on the advice of the PM”.
“Given that Anwar is the present PM, would any JC not worry about offending him and/or at risk of not being appointed a judge or having their generally two-year contract as JC extended?” asked the NGO’s co-founder Charles Hector in a media statement.
“Zaharah herself may be a good judge – not affected by any such consideration and may perform her functions as a ‘judge’ without fear or favour – but the concern is public perception of the independence of these JCs. The concern is about the fairness of such trial when one of the parties is Anwar who is the current PM.”
Hector further lamented that rather than amending the Federal Constitution to increase the number of High Court judges, the Federal Constitution was amended in June 1994 to introduce JCs instead.
“What should have been done was to simply increase the number of judges so that all judges – after their appointment by the King – will enjoy the safeguards to protect the independence of judges, especially the security of tenure right up to retirement age of 66,” opined the human rights activist-cum-lawyer.
“Now, persons qualified to be judges are appointed generally as JCs for a term of two years and this contract can be extended from time to time.”
As a solution, MADPET called for judges to be appointed directly without having to go through any ‘probation’ or ‘trial period’ as JCs “and on appointment, judges must immediately enjoy security of tenure where the end date must be their fixed retirement age”.
“Some JCs may become judges fast even before the two years have lapsed, others much later and some may even never get appointed,” added the NGO. – Oct 5, 2023