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Thursday April 17, 2008

PM announces commission, reforms for judiciary

MYT 10:27:16 PM

KUALA LUMPUR: The Government plans to set up a Judicial Appointments Commission that would make the process of nominating, appointing and promoting judges more transparent and representative.

This Commission will identify and recommend candidates, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced at the Bar Council dinner at a hotel here Thursday night.

"This Government gives its commitment to the Malaysian public that it will begin a process of judicial reform. We recognise that this process must be undertaken with the spirit and belief that no one, not even those entrusted to govern or to make laws, must assume to be above the law," he said.

He also assured the Malaysian public that consultation on the workings and structure of the Commission will involve primary stakeholders.

"All will have a chance to provide their input to the Government," he said.

The Government will also review the judiciary’s terms of service and remuneration to set salaries and compensation at the right levels to ensure that the bench can attract and retain the very best of the nation’s talent.

"These, and other measures which will be announced in due course, will form a comprehensive package of reform to strengthen the capacity and credibility of the judiciary," Abdullah said.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that the events of 1988, which ultimately saw the sacking of the then Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and two judges, constituted an upheaval of the nation’s judicial system.

Salleh was brought before a tribunal for misconduct, and filed a suit in the High Court challenging the constitutionality of the tribunal.

Five judges of the Supreme Court convened and granted him an interlocutory (interim) order against the tribunal, but this order was later set aside and Salleh officially removed from the post of Lord President.

The five Supreme Court judges who granted him the interlocutory order - Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin, Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcader, Tan Sri Wan Hamzah Mohamed Salleh, Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawan Teh and Datuk George Seah - were suspended. Wan Sulaiman and Seah were later sacked.

"Rightly or wrongly, many disputed both the legality and morality of the related proceedings," Abdullah said. "For me, personally, I feel it was a time of crisis from which the nation never fully recovered," he said, but added that it was time to move on.

"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," he said.

Abdullah admitted that the public considers the present way of appointing and promoting judges as inadequate, especially after the inquiry undertaken by the Royal Commission into the so-called “V.K. Lingam Tape.”

"The absence of a system in nominating candidates has led some to believe that the process is characterised by abuse, even where there is none. As is often the case, perception can lead reality," he said.

He said the judiciary must be revitalised to enable it to serve the people in pursuit of justice; fortified to be an institution that serves the democratic principle of separation of powers; and must act as the guardian of the Constitution and the sentinel of the people’s rights.

Abdullah also commended Salleh and his five colleagues, describing them as "towering judicial personalities" and acknowledged the pain and loss they had endured.

In recognition of their contribution to justice, the Government would make goodwill ex-gratia payments to them.

Eusoffe and Wan Suleiman have since passed away, but were represented at the Bar Council dinner by their families.

Earlier at the dinner, de facto Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said he hoped never again to see judges punished for doing their jobs, while the Bar Council commended the Prime Minister for creating a more democratic space in Malaysia.

Justice was served

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