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Bar: PM's prerogative undermines judiciary independence

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The prime minister's prerogative to overturn recommendations on the appointment of judges seriously undermines the independence of the judiciary, Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru said today.

"This unbridled power, in the hands of the prime minister - a member of the executive - is a serious encroachment on the independence of the judiciary under our constitutional scheme, which vouchsafes the principle of separation of powers," Thiru said in the statement.

His statement comes after the revelation from retired Court of Appeal judge Mohd Hishamudin Mohd Yunus ( photo ), who confirmed that Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak halted his elevation to the Federal Court.

Thiru said under the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) Act, the commission can submit its recommendations for appointments to the judicial office to the prime minister.

JAC's recommendation, he pointed out, is based on a certain set of criteria laid out in the Act and its recommendation is therefore a product of due deliberation.

No obligation to accept recommendations

However, the prime minister is under no obligation to accept JAC's recommendations, nor does he need to provide a reason for rejecting the recommendations.

This gives the prime minister, the highest executive officer, the power to overturn recommendations of judicial appointments with discretion, Thiru ( photo ) explained.

"This is objectionable because there is a lack of transparency in the decision-making process of the prime minister.

"It creates the impression, or perception, that the prime minister can abuse his discretion to block the appointment or elevation of judges that he considers to be not partial to the government," Thiru said.

Hishamudin had told Malaysiakini that Najib prevented his appointment to the Federal Court back in 2013, when JAC recommended his name to the PM.

"Unfortunately, the PM was not in favour of my elevation to the Federal Court. I think this fact is public knowledge," he had said.

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