Ask Lord Bobo: Are Malaysian Courts Now Upholding Justice?

This column was first published on The Malaysian Insider.

Lord Bobo, we’ve recently seen some very brave judgements coming out of our courts when it comes to religious cases. Does this now mean that we can rely on our courts to uphold justice, even in sensitive cases like these? (Upholding Justice, via email)

We have previously pointed out our good friend and pupil Aristotle’s famous saying on this, where he babbled on a bit about a swallow and how just one of those swallows does not necessary mean it’s summer.

A recent judgment on religious freedom emanates from one Justice Lee Swee Seng in the Ipoh High Court, where he quashed the conversion certificates of three children who had been converted to Islam by their father without their mother’s consent. The Judge said that the mother had to give her consent, and more importantly, also said that the children themselves needed to have been present at their conversion, and needed to have uttered the two Affirmations of Faith understanding their meaning and implications, and with free will. You can read more about this judgment here.

And yes, Justice Zaleha Yusof in the Kuala Lumpur High Court also unbanned the Malay translation of Irshad Manji’s “Allah, Liberty & Love”. In doing so, the Court pointed out the incongruity of the Home Minister considering only Malay speakers as being easily prone to religious confusion, and anyway said that “leading to confusion” was not a public order issue.

These are promising signs. Lord Bobo has some hope for the Malaysian judiciary. But we must remember that the Malaysian judiciary suffers from a systemic flaw. Article 121 (1) of your Federal Constitution was amended in 1988 by Malaysia’s wonderful Dr Mahathir. (By the way, this is the same Dr Mahathir who was recently awarded the Lifetime Campaigner for Global Peace award by the Mahathir Global Peace Foundation. Perhaps it was the way Mahathir conducted Operasi Lalang in 1987, and the stories of torture in detention at Kamunting undergone by detainees that was so peaceful? Endless possibilities.)

Anyway, Article 121(1) of Malaysia’s Federal Constitution previously enshrined the concept of judicial independence and impartiality. In 1988, Mahathir got that provision amended (whilst much of the Opposition was languishing in Kamunting in the aforesaid Ops Lalang) so that the judiciary now only had powers granted to it by Parliament. Which in Malaysia, means powers bestowed upon it by the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It was in 1988 as well that Mahathir sacked 3 judges, including the top judge then, Tun Salleh Abbas. Many claim this was done because the judges were becoming increasingly independent, and because Tun Salleh Abbas had convened a full panel of 9 Judges to hear the case where UMNO had been declared illegal (paving the way for Mahathir to form UMNO Baru).

So now, more than a generation of judges have been appointed and have acted with the idea that their powers are limited to what Parliament says they have, instead of Malaysia’s original conception of an independent judiciary vested with judicial power. Lone dissenting voices in the judiciary who maintain that the judiciary’s power remains unsullied are drowned out by a cacophony of men and women who are hard-pressed ever to find anything wrong done by the Government.

The other point is how Judges are appointed and promoted. The Bar Council, always poking their noses into affairs concerning the rule of law (perhaps trying to show that lawyers really care about such things instead of accumulating Rolex and Mercedes) has pointed out that the Judicial Appointments Commission we now have is inadequate.

For Malaysia to truly have an independent judiciary, first Article 121(1) of the Federal Constitution must be restored to its position before 1988, and a more independent Judicial Appointments Commission must be implemented. Then we can start taking the first steps on what will be a long journey to get a judiciary fit for the galaxy.

Lord Bobo, excited for the upcoming UMNO General Assembly? (Politico, via email)

Who really cares? Conquering the galaxy is much more interesting.

You see some of the younger politicians trying to be heroes by criticising UMNO publicly to get the progressives on their side. In response, the established order criticises the younger ones and say there is no problem with the party.

Then there are those who will vote for your Prime Minister. Yes, UMNO votes for YOUR Prime Minister, believe or not. If you are not one of the lucky ones sent to the General Assembly, you have no say in who leads Malaysia. What General Election?

The now widely-implied fact of corrupt practices saw a change in how delegates will vote. It is much harder to bribe more people. Whoever came up with this idea is a genius.

Regardless, the sad fact is we will read, hear and see the same old speeches about championing one race and religion at the Assembly. His Supreme Eminenceness might as well draft the script now. Booooorrrriiinnnng!

Although Lord Bobo already knows your question before you even knew you had a question, as a practical display of your true desire to have your query answered, His Supreme Eminenceness has graciously allowed you to communicate your questions by either emailing [email protected] or tweeting your question, mentioning @LoyarBurok and using the hashtag #AskLordBobo. Now, what the hell are you waiting for? Hear This and Tremblingly Obey (although trembling is optional if you are somewhere very warm)!

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Ask Lord Bobo is a weekly column by LoyarBurok where all your profound, abstruse, erudite, hermetic, recondite, sagacious, and other thesaurus-described queries are answered! It is the ONLY place that His Supreme Eminenceness' thoughts are regularly channeled, via His Lordship's most loyal meditating purple-banana munching minions.

Posted on 3 October 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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