Judging the Judges: CJ means business or business as usual?

Chief Justice Tan Sri Zaki Azmi seems to be initiating bold reforms and is raising the bar for our judiciary. According to media reports, he had even asked two High Court Judges to leave for being grossly inefficient. He is sending a clear and unmistakable signal: he means business.

Lawyers have noted that there are obvious improvements in the court system since Tan Sri Zaki took over the helm of the judiciary. Judicial officers are more prompt in disposing cases, court staff are more friendly and responsive, and the general work ethic of the court has improved.

Perhaps, after so many years of lagging behind in terms of having a world class judiciary, we are finally making some progress. Every positive step that we are taking should be celebrated.

Having said that, we must remember that we still have a long road ahead of us.

To begin with, there must be some serious cracks in the judicial appointment and promotion system which allows two “grossly inefficient” High Court Judges to hold such high office in our nation’s judicial hierarchy.

High Court Judges wield enormous powers and their decisions have far-reaching implications on the day-to-day life of Malaysians. In some cases, they even hold the power of life or death for accused persons. Entire fortunes of both companies and individuals hang in the balance as High Court Judges apply the law to the factual matrix of each case. As such, we must have people of the highest intellectual capacity, those with a rigorous work ethic and of unquestionable integrity sitting on the Bench.

Former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Badawi left, as one of his administration’s, legacy the Judicial Appointments Commission. While the Commission boasts of eminent current and former judicial personalities, what is obviously missing is representation from the legal profession and civil society.

Compare our judicial appointment process with that of the United States. President Obama recently nominated Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice Souter on the United States Supreme Court. However, before Justice Sotomayor could ascend to the Bench, she was subjected to intense and rigorous questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee. She was grilled on issues ranging from her poorly chosen words in public speeches to her judicial temperament on the Bench before being confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. The function of a Senate confirmation hearing is to ensure that a Supreme Court Justice is highly-qualified and of irreproachable integrity, suitable for the eminent office that he or she holds.

If we truly aspire to have a world class judiciary with world class judges, perhaps the appointment of our High Court Judges, Court of Appeal Judges and Federal Court Judges should include a (public?) hearing before the Judicial Appointment Commission. Nominees for the various positions should be tested on their mastery of the law, personal integrity and professional accomplishments and contribution to the legal profession.

They must be able to stand up to the most robust of scrutiny. And, the hearings should be carried out live, telecast, for all to see the quality of the nominees. The hearings should also involve representatives from the legal profession and civil society who may pose questions to the nominees. This will ensure that all the stakeholders of our judiciary are involved in the appointment process of judges.

Judges are the pillars of our judicial system and the ordinary people of Malaysia deserve only the most qualified people to sit on the Bench. We certainly need to weed out the “grossly inefficient” and Tan Sri Zaki’s bold initiative to ask the two errant High Court Judges to leave is a move in the right direction. However, we must continuously up the ante and strive for excellence.

Certainly, clearing the threshold of “grossly inefficient” is just passing the minimum standard. To have a world class judiciary, our judges must be meet the “maximum evaluation” test. For that to happen, the appointment of our judges must involve the various stakeholders.

Surely, if judges are going to sit in judgment of others for their entire professional tenure, the rakyat have the “right to first refusal”, and judge whether the nominees are, in the first place, qualified to sit as judges.


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Wong Fook Meng is a lawyer from Malacca and a member of the Bar Council's Constitutional Law Committee. He also serves as a leader in City Community Church. He speaks regularly in churches and attempts to integrate faith with the duties for nation building whenever possible in his messages. He believes true transformation begins from the inside out and hopes and prays that the nation's leaders are guided by an inner sense of truth, justice and integrity so that corruption and abuse of power can be restrained. Like most Malaysians, he rather talk politics than do something concrete to change things. But, he is also beginning to realise that unless ordinary rakyat like him begin to take proactive steps to push for positive change, things will remain the same. His wife, Tan Joo Li, is a principal of a child care center. He hopes future leaders of the nation will have a child-like innocence when it comes to corruption.

Posted on 15 September 2009. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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6 Responses to Judging the Judges: CJ means business or business as usual?

  1. Pingback: The Bar Council – Toothless Pussy or Roaring Lion? | LoyarBurok

  2. art harun

    Dear Two One,

    Yes, it's 9 months that he has been the CJ. My mistake. I went and counted from the time he was elevated. Well, I failed my Maths. But not because it was in English though. :)

    I have no doubt that the CJ meant well. And I am sure he is a hard working person. But in my opinion, dismissal of Judges must be done in accordance with the Fed. Consti. Otherwise it would cause all sorts of suspicions and speculations.

    I agree that some employers quietly ask their employees to leave when they misbehave or under perform. However, the Judiciary, which is a public institution should not IMHO indulge in such practices because that would make the process not transparent. The ultimate stakeholders, ie, the people must be kept abreast of the happenings in the Judiciary.

    That is my point.

    Peace.

  3. Two_One

    My learned brother Art Harun,

    The CJ has only been a CJ for about 9 months, not 3 years. Official status aside, i do believe that we can expect to be on the right track in being the best Judiciary in the Commonwealth, if not the world under his leadership. We are moving aren't we? I have seen and have been working with him and there is nothing insincere that i can detect from his actions. He is truly more accomodating in dispensing justice with no nonsense attached.

    as for the two judges, it could be that the pressure from other performing judges compelled them to depart early. I don't know… Some employers gives thier under performing employees the chance to leave peacefully to save time, energy, money and face. Besides, there is nothing unconstitutional with judges tendering their resignation. i stand to be corrected.

  4. Leong Yook Kong

    The entire future of the Perakians hang in the balance as the judge slapped his own face. Is that not a contradiction of the highest order? Can CJ review this judgment?

  5. Annou Xavier

    The 2 judges, whom we all know, ought to have been weeded out long time ago. The cases in that particular court on the 3rd floor of Jalan Duta were not moving since…2006. Why wait from 2006 till now? CJ is somewhat like MACC, moving speedily in 'some' matters and dragging the feet in 'some' matters…

  6. Judges should not be told to leave for whatever reason. That is blackmail. It's like saying, "you leave or I would…do such and such a thing!". That is unacceptable and stupid of a CJ to do!

    If the two Judges (whom everyone in the lagal fraternity already know) have done wrong,then they should be hauled up and brought to face a tribunal. Proof must be given and let the tribunal decide. Justice is then dispensed. In addition, the proceedings would be public and the public would know what these two fellows have done.

    If we keep on telling Judges to leave in the comfort of our chambers, the process is not transparent and people might say victimisation is the reason why these two Judges are asked to leave. That is so NOT happening!

    And how long has Tan Sri Zaki been the CJ? 3 years? As I say just now, everyone here knows these two Judges and what they have been up to all these while. Why the hell did the good CJ take 3 years to ask them to leave and even then, why the grace period of 6-9 months? For them to wreak further havoc or what?

    I think this move to ask them to leave is laughable, not transparent, ill advised and downright silly!

    Tan Sri Zaki is the CHIEF JUSTICE for God's sake! Act like one la. Like the Chief Justice that he is. He is the Chief of all Justices. Not a prosecutor and executioner. This is just like that dimwit Judge who had convicted, sentenced and had wanted to execute the sentence on the convict the other day.

    I find all these hilariously idiotic!