How We Remunerate Our Judges

A consideration of The Judge’s Remuneration Act 1971 (Act 45).

The Judge’s Remuneration Act 1971 (Act 45) is a poor read. This Act regulates how much Judges in the High Court and above are paid and these are their going rates (per Schedule 1 of the Act):

* The salary prior to the present (between 1/1/2000 – 31/12/2001)

Types of Judges

Salary (RM)

Per Month

Pensionable

Effective Date

Chief Justice

14,520.00
(13,200.00)*

1/1/2002

President of the Court of Appeal

12,729.20
(11,572.00)*

Chief Judge of High Court in Malaya

12,608.20
(11,462.00)*

Chief Judge of the High Court in Sabah and Sarawak

12,281.50
(11,165.00)*

Federal Court Judges

11,833.80
(10,758.00)*

Court of Appeal Judges

11,392.15

(10,356.50)*

Judges of the High Courts in Malaya and Sabah and Sarawak

10,950.50

(9,955.00)*

There are two preliminary things that could be said about this table. I shall be dealing with its substance a little later. The first is that whilst the difference in pay between the High Court, Court of Appeal and Federal Court Judges is understandable, I think it reprehensible that the Chief Judge (Malaya) gets a slightly higher pay Chief Judge (Sabah and Sarawak) even though it is a small amount. And it is precisely because it is a token amount it is meant to reflect something deeper – that the Chief Judge (Malaya) sits just that inch higher than the Chief Judge (Sabah and Sarawak). This difference should be abolished. Both should be given equal pay. We shall also later see that where allowances are concerned they are on par.

Secondly, the manner in which Judges pay is kept up with the rate of inflation is slow and irregular. The present pay scale was put in place five years ago. Before that it was amended two years apart. And look at the difference – and average of just over one thousand ringgit only. A measly ten percent or thereabouts.

Next let us consider their entertainment allowance that Judges are entitled to (Schedule 2 of the Act) (As an aside, you would think it strange that judges are given ‘so much’ (in relation to their basic remuneration) in terms of allowance since they are supposed to live quiet, contemplative lives. The quieter and more honest the judge’s lifestyle, the livelier the Justice that pours forth! For Justice prospers in the company of philosophy, well written fiction and calm, mature reflection. But it could be looked on as their holiday allowance I suppose):

Types of Judges

Allowance (RM)

Per Month

Effective Date

Chief Justice

5,400.00

1/3/1998

President of the Court of Appeal

5,100.00

Chief Judge of High Court in Malaya

5,100.00

Chief Judge of the High Court in Sabah and Sarawak

5,100.00

Federal Court Judges

5,000.00

Court of Appeal Judges

4,800.00

Judges of the High Courts in Malaya and Sabah and Sarawak

4,600.00

Judges serving in Sabah and Sarawak (including the Chief Judge) get a monthly regional allowance too amounting to about ten percent of their monthly salary, but only for as long as they are serving there. Once they are transferred back to Kuala Lumpur they lose this allowance.

It is also interesting to note that in paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 the Government has an unfettered discretion to give any such special allowance that it deems fit to grant to a Judge on an ad hoc basis. The rates for this are set out in paragraph 17 of the same schedule. Very interesting. I wonder whether this has to be disclosed anywhere and how this applies. After all, Judges sit in judgment over government agencies as well. This provision could prove handy to persuade them to consider their cases favourably. If there is to be rule of law, this provision should not be allowed. This special allowance is almost fifty percent of their respective current salaries:

Types of Judges

Special

Allowance (RM)

Per Month

Effective Date

Chief Justice

6,000.00

1/3/1996

President of the Court of Appeal

4,500.00

Chief Judge of High Court in Malaya

4,500.00

Chief Judge of the High Court in Sabah and Sarawak

4,500.00

Federal Court Judges

3,750.00

Court of Appeal Judges

3,675.00

Judges of the High Courts in Malaya and Sabah and Sarawak

3,600.00

At paragraph 10 we see just how much official clothing allowance they are given. These figures are all effective since 1 January 1996. A Judge can ‘claim a subsidised payment of RM 750 once in 3 years as allowance for official attire used while presiding’. Aside from this generous allowance they are also ‘eligible to receive warm clothing allowance of RM 600 once in 3 years when required to carry out duties overseas or in a country with temperate climate and subsidised payment for “Black Tie” attire of RM 500 once in 3 years.’ Finally, their Lordships would also be eligible to be issued with a ‘ceremonial costume at a price approved by the Treasury’.

All we can surmise from this is that the Government clearly expects all the highest Judges of our beloved country to make their suits overnight in Bangkok if they were to rely entirely on their subsidy allowance. These crumbs are so pathetic as to be almost quaint. A well tailored single breasted suit with quality material at established players like Spark Manshop, Wardrobe and the like goes for about RM3,500 for the locally cut suits. If you’re looking at the foreign cut suits (they send the suit to Italy or wherever for it to be cut, the suit is then flown back here for fitting which the local tailors will carry out, then sent back for the final cut and finally back here) then we’re talking about prices starting from RM 7,000 and beyond. I certainly would not want our Judges to be walking around in cheap shabby clothes made in Haadyai and having to compromise their image if they have full need of their pay and entertainment allowance.

Next, their housing allowances. They are only entitled to the following rental subsidy if they do not wish to stay in government provided quarters. ‘In this paragraph, “free fully furnished institutional quarters” means housing accommodation provided free of rent by the Government and furnished in accordance with the guidelines of the Government for the furnishing of such accommodation.’ It should also be noted that ‘[t]he privilege and allowance in this paragraph shall be accorded or paid notwithstanding that the Judge has been granted a loan under the housing loans scheme referred to in paragraph 14.’

Types of Judges

Rental Subsidy* (RM)

Per Month

# 1/1/1992

Domestic Help (RM)

Per Month

1/1/1996

House and Garden Upkeep (RM)

Per Month

1/1/1996

Chief Justice

3,150.00

2,100.00

4,100.00

President of the Court of Appeal

2,500.00

(1/1/1994)

2,000.00

3,000.00

Chief Judges

2,500.00

2,000.00

3,000.00

Federal Court Judges

2,250.00

1,000.00

3,000.00

Court of Appeal Judges

2,250.00

(1/1/1994)

1,000.00

3,000.00

Judges of the High Courts in Malaya and Sabah and Sarawak

2,250.00

1,000.00

3,000.00

* in lieu of free housing provision   # effective date

There are other allowances for their dependents, office help and other minor items which need not concern us (car is provided with a loan allowed). I am just primarily interested in the major liquid items that go directly to the Judge. If we add up all the above (excluding the special ad hoc allowance given by the Government on its discretion though including the 3 year clothing allocation), we end up with the following ball park figures (also takes into account regional allowances for Sabah and Sarawak Judges):

Types of Judges

Income (RM)

Per Month

(Major Items)

Chief Justice

31,120.00

President of the Court of Appeal

27,179.20

Chief Judge of High Court in Malaya

27,058.20

Chief Judge of the High Court in Sabah and Sarawak

26,731.50

Federal Court Judges

24,933.80

Court of Appeal Judges

24,292.15

Judges of the High Courts in Malaya and Sabah and Sarawak

23,650.50

Now we see what our noble Justices are roughly drawing each month. Let us consider what it is these Judges have to do. They have to decide between all that occurs between heaven and hell and between our borders with neighbouring countries. They decide all relations and disputes between mankind and its legal fictions (like the corporation). They decide over truth. They decide and write the definitive version of some people’s history, and that will be on record forever whether it is accurate or not. They decide over right and wrong. Life and Death. These responsibilities, as any barely sensible person would appreciate are fascinatingly important.

Therefore, the people that attend to them should be made as comfortable and well compensated for their efforts (within, of course reasonable boundaries). These are Ministers of Justice, each and every one of them. Their thoughts should be allowed to direct themselves solely to the matters before them to ensure that Justice manifests itself and give of her bounty. It is also important to give them a remuneration that reflects the nature and importance of their duties and their rank within the Judiciary. It is unfortunate that after all the amenities have been provided that money is the only way to reflect this, but this has to be done. Nobility is also easier to maintain with ample means.

You have brokers, Chief Executive Officers, Executive Directors, etc. earning more than our dispensers of Justice. These men whose concerns are though important, though smaller in scale compared to what a Judge has to contemplate, consider and finally, decide. How much we recompense our Judges reflects how important a role we place upon it in our society. That they are paid so little speaks volumes of in truth, what we already know. Hence guerilla rumours of corruption make the rounds every once in a while. The amount Judges are paid and their allowances must be substantially increased and regularly reviewed to be comparable to some of the average leading chief executives pay in our local industries over a ten year spread, for example.

But it shouldn’t be up to me. Their remuneration should be regularly reviewed by the Judicial Appointment Commission (‘JAC’) proposed by the Bar Council. That is the most important condition of the increase – those appointments of the Judges are not based solely on the discretion of the Chief Justice, but by the JAC of which the Chief Justice would participate. This is not to ensure nudity but transparency. No one wants to see naked Judges.  And if the JAC say that we have to pay our Judges at least two million ringgit and higher to eradicate corruption and keep it at under five percent, and keep them focused on their jobs and doing it in an honest, transparent, temperate and just manner, than I’m all for it. And they should be audited as well by the JAC with the police. This is because even though the Judges are not accountable in a strict sense to the people (they do not elect them, although in United States the lower positions are up for elections), they are still accountable to the law and justice too. That is why both of them are involved. And those who are to receive this much higher remunerative rate should have the makings of and look to aspire and emulate legends like Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcader, Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin, Datuk George Seah, Tan Sri Wan Sulaiman Pawanteh and Tan Sri Wan Hamzah Mohamed Salleh who honourably gave and suffered so much more for so much less. To pay those much higher rates for a Judge for anybody less than those men would not just be a mockery of their memory, but highly uneconomical. We will not be getting value for our money. And that is an injustice too.


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Fahri Azzat practices the dark arts of the law. Although he enjoys writing and reading, he doesn't enjoy writing his own little biographies of himself. Like this one. He wished somebody else would do it for him. He has little taste in writing about himself in third person. He feels weird doing it. But the part he finds most tedious is having to pad up the lack of his accomplishments, or share some interesting facts about his rather uneventful life, as if there were some who found that oh-so-interesting; as if he were some famous person, like Michael Jackson. When he writes these biographies, the thought, 'Wei, Jangan Perasaan- ah!' lights up in his head. So he usually just lists what he got involved with, positions he held and blah, blah. But this time. Right here. Right this very moment. Uhuh. This one. This one right here. He's finally telling it like it is.

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One Response to How We Remunerate Our Judges

  1. yi kbnl

    Despite the JAC's existence, appointment is still ultimately the PM's choice and payment is from government. Doubt there's much Judicial Independence. Not much Separation of Powers.

    How can we obtain Judicial Independence or at least close to?

    Would it help if appointment was by Parliament? or Parliament and Bar Council and JAC? And remuneration comes from some kind of Parliamentary Committee?

    I tire at the attempts at regime change… even if there was a change with the current non independent judicial system the same things will happen. Instead I'm wondering why not focus on trying to change the system in that the check balance of the Govt be truly independent. Which brings me to another pillar of democracy which should also be independent but is not, the Election Commission. Can the EC be a parliamentary thing with UN involvement?

    I believe if we can achieve judicial independence and have a non govt controlled EC, the will of the people will be better represented. If achievable… I hope the leading jurists in Malaysia could find a way to do so .