Ahad, 30 September 2007

Kehakiman Dipertahan: Analisis Dr Azmi Sharom Dalam Akhbar The Star

Judiciary must be protected

(Disalin dari Malaysia-Today)

The Star

The government has to set up a Royal Commission with the necessary powers to thoroughly investigate the entire judiciary, as there is a desperate need to clean house and to do so comprehensively.

ON WEDNESDAY at our administrative capital, there was a gathering of lawyers, united in their calls for justice. I was there at Putrajaya and I must say I have never seen a better dressed “demo” in my life.

By my count, there were 1,200 lawyers and a smattering of civil society folk gathered at the Palace of Justice. Some of them had to walk five to six kilometres to get there because the police had stopped the buses ferrying them into Putrajaya.

It was a totally pointless show of power which served only to strengthen the resolve of those who were stopped, as well as those who knew that their colleagues were being subjected to some silly high-handedness.

A bunch of lawyers dressed to the nines, intent on walking as a peaceful group from the
Palace of Justice to the Prime Minister’s Department to deliver a memorandum. This is what these people came to Putrajaya for.

This was what the police tried to stop, a simple, non-violent expression of a democratic right.

But then, perhaps I am being naive. One never knows, these crazy radical lawyer types might have Molotov cocktails hidden under their bibs and one can only imagine the kind of damage they can do with their bundles of documents tied up in pink ribbons.

Be that as it may, the police could not stop the “Walk for Justice” and the call for a Royal Commission to look into the state of the judiciary. Our judiciary has not been in the pink of health, especially since the sacking of Tun Salleh Abbas as Lord President in 1988.

Since then the impartiality, the independence and the basic honesty of the judiciary have been questioned time and time again.

Two major concerns are the method by which judges are appointed and related to this, the vital question as to whether the judiciary is truly free from executive interference. These are fears that strike to the heart of a democratic system.

Without the checks and balances that having three separate branches of government – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – provides, one cannot say that there is a true democracy.

And one cannot say with any certainty that the law will protect the citizens from any sort of despotic behaviour.

This sad lack of faith in the judicial system (which is the penultimate defender of democracy and the citizenry) has been with us for nearly 20 years.

There has been much talk, but this time the lawyers decided that a physical show of their disapproval was needed. Why did this happen?

Well, the straw that broke the barristers’ back is the infamous videotape showing a senior lawyer on the phone with, apparently, a senior judge. This lawyer can be seen and heard discussing how he was trying to broker the appointment of said judge to the highest judicial post in the country.

Suddenly what has been the subject of talk and whispers has taken solid form, to be viewed again and again on our own computer screens.

The appointment of judges has been reduced to tawdry politicking and power play involving politicians and wealthy businessmen. It was too much to bear. And the legal fraternity had to take to the streets or lose its own credibility.

Their demand is simple. The government has to set up a Royal Commission with the necessary powers to thoroughly investigate the entire judiciary. There is a desperate need to clean house and to do so comprehensively. Sure, since the video came out, the government has set up a three-man panel to look into the matter.

But their ambit is merely to determine the legitimacy of the video recording. Let them do their work, by all means, but really that is only the tip of the iceberg.

We need a Royal Commission to determine the legitimacy of the entire judiciary, and we need it now.

Let’s just take a look at how low the legal system has sunk. The judge who was supposed to be at the other end of the videotaped phone conversation, in true Bart Simpson style, told the de facto Minister of Law that it wasn’t him. The Minister then told this to the press.

My question is: “So what”? Does that mean the next time someone is accused of murder or corruption, all he needs to say is “I didn’t do it”?

Who cares what the judge said. If the video is not a fake (and it looks mighty authentic to me, no Tian Chua Photoshop trickery here), the suspects must be cross-examined.

And to top it off, the Minister tried to deflect the situation by saying that an opposition political party released the videotape and therefore there had to be a political agenda.

I’m sorry YB, but I don’t care who came up and delivered the video. If it is true, it shows that we need major changes in our judiciary and no political blame shifting is going to alter that.

Two things struck me during Wednesday’s “Walk for Justice”. First, the demand for a Royal Commission is more than reasonable, it is necessary.

Secondly, standing there in Putrajaya, first in the scorching sun and then the chilling rain, I could not have been prouder. Amongst the crowd were ex-students who came up and said hello.

To think that my colleagues and I had played a small role in the development of these men and women, who are willing to make their stand, means we must have done something right.

To look around and feel part of a larger group of people who work in the legal field and who appreciate justice; well it was a good time to be a law teacher.

But it is not over yet. Now we, all of us citizens, must keep on pressing, so the work to clean up our judiciary, to rescue it from the quagmire of mistrust, will continue until we can once more rest easy in the belief that in Malaysia, justice can and will be done.

Dr Azmi Sharom is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya