Zaki Azmi's appointment as Court of Appeal president was no surprise. It was predictable from the time he was catapulted into the Federal Court. Elevating the most junior Federal Court judge to the post of Court of Appeal president is unprecedented in our judicial history. But that did not seem to bother the prime minister, not even when Zaki’s appointment to the Federal Court attracted negative comments.
We are indeed shocked that a person so junior in rank with nothing outstanding about him should now outrank all the serving senior judges, some of whom are most deserving of this exalted position. It is very disturbing that Zaki is set to become the next chief justice within a year. Is the prime minister telling the entire nation that there are no better judges in terms of seniority, experience, diligence and integrity on the bench that can be considered for this top post? It would be laughable if someone were to answer "Yes" to this question.
The battered image of the judiciary will not be improved by this shocking appointment that goes against the grain of public opinion. It is a pity that good sense has failed to prevail. When the judiciary is low on public opinion, it is a terrible mistake to parachute someone so closely associated with Umno to the top position. This appointment smacks of political intervention to safeguard the interests of the executive rather than to protect the integrity of the judiciary. It is no wonder that many eyebrows were raised when the announcement was made public.
Without a doubt, it has embarrassed some of the most senior and capable judges who have been by-passed so unceremoniously. These judges are known for their impeccable character, integrity and a track record that speaks volumes for their diligence and commitment to the judiciary. They must surely be feeling shattered. Who can blame them? This is something that will cast further doubt on the independence of the judiciary especially at a time when it is already in the doldrums following the scandalous expose of the Lingam tape.
The ordinary person must inevitably conclude that there is no saving grace for the judiciary.
The writer is president of Aliran.