Public criticism of high-profile cases has gone overboard, says top judge

PUTRAJAYA: Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat has rebuked criticism over high-profile cases, saying that the recent public disapproval had "gone overboard".

She noted that of late, there had been high profile cases involving people of public interest at the courts and it was common for judges to receive criticisms from those who were disappointed with court decisions.

Tengku Maimun said while citizens, including politicians, were free to criticise the judiciary to a certain extent, it did not mean that they could level unfounded and scurrilous attacks against the judiciary or a particular judge to further their own end.

"It is important to emphasise that the judiciary is the last line of defence in a constitutional democracy and there must never be a suspicion that the judiciary is captured," she said in a speech at the swearing-in ceremony of newly appointed High Court judges at the Palace of Justice here on Wednesday (April 27).

The top judge said when a need arises for the judiciary to be criticised, it must be done in a manner that was constructive and did not undermine its independence and confidence in the judiciary.

"No one should sow the seeds of doubts among the public concerning the integrity of the judiciary or judges," she added.

In her strongly-worded speech, Tengku Maimun called for the judges to not falter and not to allow interference as the integrity of the justice system and the independence of the judiciary could never be compromised under any circumstances.

"Come what may, we must remain strong and resilient and be steadfast in upholding the rule of law.

"Whilst we cannot control the words or actions of some quarters who are bent on tarnishing or destroying the image of the judiciary, it is within our control to ensure that no one meddles in our affairs.

"In other words, there can be no interference in the judiciary if we judges do not allow that to happen," she said.

Interferences, she said, would not happen as long as cases were decided without fear or favour, ill-will or motive, any external or internal pressure or regard to the personalities involved.

"Public or popular views do not matter. Cases are decided based on evidence led in court and based on established principles of law including the stare decisis.

"Whatever allegations and tribulations that confront us, these principles must be adhered to.

"Only if we adhere to these paramount principles are we worthy of being called judges," she added.

The judiciary has recently come under fire over several public interest cases with mounting criticisms and divided opinions from netizens.

Two of such cases are that of clerk Sam Ke Ting who was convicted by the Johor Bahru High Court for reckless driving as well as the trial of Rumah Bonda founder, Siti Bainun Ahd Razali who was accused of abusing a Down Syndrome teenager named Bella.

The judiciary also faced attacks when Court of Appeal judge Justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali (then a High Court judge) - who convicted and sentenced former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak over the misappropriation of RM42mil of SRC International funds - was alleged to have "unexplained RM1mil in his bank account", as claimed by blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin on his website Malaysia Today.

The judiciary had since described the Malaysia Today article as "false, baseless, and malicious allegations" aimed at tarnishing Justice Mohd Nazlan's credibility and to interfere with the justice system and the judicial institution while the Malaysian Bar, in its support for the judiciary, had called for a balanced investigation by the authorities in the matter.

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