Events that led to judicial crisis of ’88


KUALA LUMPUR: The judicial crisis was sparked off in 1988 when the then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad tabled a Bill in Parliament to amend Articles 121 and 145 of the Federal Constitution.

The Bill sought to divest the courts of the “judicial power of the Federation”, giving them only such powers as Parliament granted them. The Attorney-General was also empowered to determine venues for cases.

Tun Salleh Abas, who was the Lord President then, made a statement defending the judiciary’s autonomy.

He also convened a meeting of 20 Supreme Court judges in Kuala Lumpur and a decision was made to address a confidential letter to the Yang di Pertuan Agong and various state rulers.

The letter read: “All of us are disappointed with the various comments and accusations made by the honourable prime minister against the judiciary, not only outside but within the Parliament.”

Two months later, Salleh was suspended and High Court of Malaya Chief Justice Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Omar was appointed acting Lord President.

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

Five judges of the Supreme Court convened and granted Salleh an interlocutory (interim) order against the tribunal. This order was later set aside and in August 1988, Salleh was officially removed from the post of Lord President.

The five Supreme Court judges who granted Salleh 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.

In October, Wan Sulaiman and Seah were sacked while the other three judges were reinstated.

In August 2006, the Bar Council called for a review of the sacking of Salleh, Seah and Wan Sulaiman.

In March this year, newly-appointed de facto Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said the Federal Government must make an open apology to those victimised by the judicial crisis in 1988 that had led to the sacking of Salleh.

Related Stories:PM's 'Delivering justice, renewing trust' speech Government moves to strengthen judiciary Abdullah pays tribute to Salleh and Supreme Court judges sacked in 1988 Lawyers laud panel to appoint judges It’s a moral victory, says former Lord President Pakatan Rakyat applauds moves for judicial reforms Restoring our faith in judges

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