Bar EGM crucial for stand on judiciarys future

Several veteran lawyers want the Bar Council to hold an extraordinary general meeting to arrest the continuous decline of public confidence in the judiciary.

Expressing their concern to malaysiakini over the recent Federal Court decision to uphold ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim's conviction, they felt it was time for the Malaysian Bar to take a firm stand on the matter.

One senior lawyer who requested anonymity said the confidence of the public and the Bar has not quite recovered since the 1988 judicial crisis which saw the removal of then Lord President Salleh Abas.

"The Bar defended the judiciary against the executive attack although the judges themselves seemed aloof over it. But the situation now is one which the judiciary has brought upon itself by behaving in a questionable manner.

"As for the dismissal of Anwar's appeal, not only Malaysians considered the Court of Appeal and Federal Court decisions wrong, but there was also an international outcry. This case was not like any other because it was reported daily and many people followed it closely from the start."

Worse than 1988 crisis

HL Wrigglesworth, the Malaysian Bar's most senior member, who strongly feels that the present state of the judiciary is much worse than the 1988 judicial crisis, said it was imperative for the Bar to re-establish its former high reputation.

"An EGM will provide the members of the Bar with an opportunity to do this.

"So far, neither the Bar Council nor the Malaysian Bar has expressed in strong enough terms their condemnation of the Federal Court's atrocious decision in Anwar's appeal, and this is essential in order to restore the high reputation of the Bar," he told malaysiakini.

In a letter to the Bar Council, copies of which were also sent to several senior lawyers, Wrigglesworth, 84, had described the judiciary's present situation as "worse than in 1988 when the judges did nothing to help the judiciary which consequently fell into worldwide disrepute".

His call for an EGM has also fallen on deaf ears as the Bar Council has yet to respond to the letter sent on July 15.

Another senior lawyer said the Bar must also consider ways it can support judges who maintain their independence from improper pressure, especially when they publicly expose such pressure which might result in the termination of their appointments.

Suitable employment

In 1988, for example, prosperous law firms had provided suitable employment for two of the five dismissed judges, but useful discussion at an EGM may result in some other solutions, he said.

"On the other hand, the Bar could agree to socially ostracised judges who patently succumb to intimidation from above or do not dispense justice when it is within their lawful powers to do so," he added.

Former Bar vice-president Dr Peter Mooney, who agreed with Wrigglesworth, said the quality of judges has deteriorated since 1988 and their integrity has become questionable.

"The confidence of the public and the Bar has definitely degenerated. Whether it is 1988 or 2002, public confidence has been shaken greatly.

"When the present chief justice took over, we had great hopes, but now we think that the situation is moving in reverse."

Mooney said the Federal Court, by dismissing Anwar's appeal, had done an about-turn of its earlier decision in the contempt of court case against Anwar's lawyer Zainur Zakaria when it had criticised the conduct of the trial judge.

"Why must it be different now... between Zainur going to jail and Anwar being wrongly convicted?"

Stronger signal

He said the Bar should have passed a strong resolution over the Federal Court decision so that at least the public will know where lawyers stand on the matter. "Furthermore, an EGM will send out a stronger signal."

Zainur, who is also a former president, however, felt that the situation was not worse off now than in 1988 and the disappointment over Anwar's appeal should not be used to generalise the situation of the judiciary.

"There had been significant overall improvement in certain parts of the judiciary over the last two years. Although a majority of the public and lawyers are disappointed with the decision, we cannot say that the entire judiciary is worse than before.

"We also cannot blame the entire judiciary for the decision of three judges. If at all any doubts are raised, they should be over the individual capability of the judges and not the entire judiciary."

On whether the Bar Council will call for an EGM without members requisitioning for it, Zainur said he didn't think so.

"I feel that the Council members will not be willing to call for one. I think that if at all an EGM is held, it will have to be the Bar members to call for it."