KUCHING: The High Court here has dismissed Petronas' application for a judicial commissioner to recuse himself from hearing the Sarawak government's lawsuit against the national oil corporation for not paying the 5% state sales tax on petroleum products.
Judicial Commissioner Christopher Chin said there was no real possibility of perceived bias by fair-minded observers of whatever decision he would make in the case.
"The application, even with the avowed best intentions of the defendant, is an affront to the judiciary in Malaysia and is frivolous and without merit," he said in his ruling Thursday (Jan 23).
He also awarded costs of RM50,000 to the plaintiff.
During the hearing in chambers on Jan 14, Petronas had submitted that although they were not casting any aspersions on Chin's integrity, there was a real danger of perceived bias that he might decide the case to favour the Prime Minister due to pressure to earn confirmation as a High Court judge.
This was because Chin was a judicial commissioner and his tenure was subject to confirmation by the Prime Minister, who is also the person with ultimate control over the national oil corporation.
However, the state government submitted that since Petronas was not questioning Chin's integrity, there should be no fear that he would not decide the case impartially.
In his ruling, Chin said it was his considered view that he and all judicial commissioners were not likely to be perceived by informed casual observers as being biased just because their appointment, like Petronas' affairs, were subject to the Prime Minister, as they had taken up an oath to defend the rule of law and the Federal Constitution.
"During my nine months on the bench, I can categorically state that I have never been instructed, hinted or urged by my bosses, the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak nor the Chief Justice, or by any judge or person for that matter, on how I should decide in any dispute.
"Despite my lack of seniority and judicial experience, I have full and unfettered independence in deciding all cases as I see judicially fit," he said, adding that his decisions included those that did not favour the government of the day.
As such, Chin said the public could rest assured that the ideals of an independent judiciary were alive and well in Malaysia.
"One good thing has emerged from this application, for which I am grateful to the defendant. I now truly understand, and with sharp focus, the true meaning of adjudication without fear or favour," he added.
Petronas' counsel Datuk Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said the national oil corporation would appeal the decision.
"I wish to make clear that my client applied to recuse the judicial commissioner on the ground that the situation gives rise to an appearance of conflict of interest.
"The recusal application was made in the best interests of the administration of justice. It was only based on an appearance of bias and no suggestion of actual bias was made," he told reporters after the decision.
Malik also said Petronas would apply for a stay of proceedings pending the outcome of the appeal.
The application for the stay of proceedings will be heard on Feb 5.
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