ALOR SETAR: The Government will stick to its nomination of lawyer Tommy Thomas for Attorney General (AG), despite the Palace having reservations about the choice.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the Government is handling the matter based on the law and Federal Constitution while the King acts on advice from the Government.
“We are holding onto our principles,” said Dr Mahathir, adding that efforts are ongoing to resolve the issue.
He denied that Thomas was a secular supporter and found nothing wrong with Thomas being close to Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng and having represented Lim, then Penang chief minister, in the bungalow fiasco which was under investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.
“There is no such thing,” said Dr Mahathir when asked if Thomas’ rejection was because the latter was a secular supporter.
“Lim is in the Government and now the Finance Minister, why can’t this person (Thomas) be friendly with Lim?
“He is a lawyer for everybody, even for Barisan Nasional. Lawyers take cases that bring them income,” added Dr Mahathir, who is Pakatan Harapan chairman, during a press conference after meeting with Kedah Pakatan Harapan leaders at Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir’s official residence in Sri Mentaloon here yesterday.
The Malay Rulers will meet tomorrow to deliberate on the appointment of the new AG.
In a related development, constitutional experts said the Constitution allows for the appointment of a non-Muslim as Attorney General on the advice of the Prime Minister, with Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V having no say in it.
“The only criterion is that the person must be someone who is qualified to be a Federal Court judge, but this does not mean he has to be a Federal Court judge.
“And Thomas certainly qualifies to be a Federal Court judge,” constitutional lawyer Syahredzan Johan told The Star.
Under Article 123 of the Federal Constitution, he said the candidate for AG must have at least 10 years of legal practice or has served the judicial and legal service for at least 10 years before the appointment.
Thomas is one of Malaysia’s leading litigation lawyers, with over 40 years’ experience as counsel in landmark cases in all courts in Malaysia including the Privy Council in London.
Syahredzan said the matter of race and religion should not be turned into an issue.
“The Constitution is silent on race and religion and it should not be an issue at all,” he said.
“It is clearly stated the appointment of the AG is on the advice of the Prime Minister and the King does not have any discretion to depart from this advice.”
He said the King also does not have the discretion to reject the person chosen or even demand for a list of names for his consideration.
International Islamic University Malaysia law lecturer and constitutional expert Assoc Prof Dr Shamrahayu Abdul Aziz said the King is bound by Article 145 of the Constitution when it comes to the appointment of the AG.
“The Constitution clearly states that the King shall, on the advice of the Prime Minister, appoint a person who is qualified to be a judge of the Federal Court, to be the Attorney General for the Federation.
“Constitutionally speaking, it means the King shall act on the advice of the Prime Minister,” she said.
However, she said that the King may ask for additional information before making the appointment.
Dr Shamrahayu said the Constitution does not fix the race, gender or religion of an individual for the appointment as AG.
“In the early formation of the country, we had non-Malay and non-Muslim AGs between 1955 and 1963 as well as a female AG.
“There is no restriction on race, gender or religion when it comes to this matter,” she added.
Senior lawyer Datuk Roger Tan said the King must adhere to the will of the people which is represented by the Prime Minister of the day.
“Thomas is obviously qualified to be a Federal Court judge within the meaning of Article 123 of the Constitution, in that Thomas is a citizen and has been a legal practitioner for more than 40 years.
“Article 123 provides the minimum qualification at 10 years’ standing as a legal practitioner,” he said.
He pointed out that there is no requirement under Article 145 for the King to consult the Conference of Rulers on the appointment.
Meanwhile, former senior government minister Tan Sri Rais Yatim tweeted that the King has limited exceptions under the Constitution.
“Let the PM get on with the job with his Cabinet.
“There is nothing wrong with Tommy Thomas as AG. Stop this bickering when there is no legal ground to bicker,” said Rais.
On May 14, Dr Mahathir announced that Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali was told to go on leave and would be temporarily replaced by Solicitor-General Datuk Engku Nor Faizah Engku Atek.
The Star in its front-page story reported that a proposal by Dr Mahathir to appoint Thomas as the AG had sparked a major disagreement with the King.
Essentially, Dr Mahathir is adamant about replacing Apandi, submitting only Thomas’ name to Sultan Muhammad V.
However, the King insisted on more than one name, according to sources close to the royalty.