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An illegal chief justice with Raus’ extension?

Lim Kit Siang  |  Published:  |  Modified:

MP SPEAKS | The late-night announcement of the appointment of Md Raus Sharif as “additional judge” to remain as chief justice for another three years is unprecedented and unconstitutional, and has plunged Malaysia into a new constitutional crisis.

Late-night announcements seem to have become a new modus operandi of the Najib premiership - as another late-night announcement last night was Prime Minister Najib Razak’s statement firing a ferocious salvo against former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

My statement on Wednesday on the three questions troubling judges, lawyers, legislators and informed Malaysians for some time may have expedited the announcement last night on the illegal and unconstitutional appointment of Raus as an “additional judge” and the extension of his tenure as chief justice for another three years.

The three questions that had been swirling in the minds of judges, lawyers, legislators and informed Malaysians for quite some time, and answered by last night's announcement, were:

  1.  whether the country will have an illegal and unconstitutional chief justice after Aug 3, 2017;
  2. whether a new constitutional crisis will blow up in the face of Parliament during its three-week July/August meeting from July 24 to Aug 10 with the appointment of an illegal and unconstitutional chief justice; and
  3. whether the country will be celebrating the 60th National Day anniversary and the 1957 Merdeka Constitution with a most serious assault on the sanctity and integrity of the fundamental provisions in the 1957 Merdeka Constitution on the doctrine of separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary.

Maybe Najib is taking heart and encouragement from the support the prime minister is receiving from the PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang over the 1MDB scandal to commit the latest unprecedented and unconstitutional act.

Najib struck gold when he enlisted Hadi as his chief defender and apologist for the 1MDB scandal.

In fact, Hadi’s novel defence of Najib and the 1MDB scandal, claiming that the 1MDB scandal is a consequence of Barisan Nasional’s motto of “leadership by example” over the years, could also be used to defend other abuses of power and even outright illegal and unconstitutional actions, like the unconstitutional appointment of Raus as “additional judge” and extension of his tenure as chief justice for another three years.

Many jurists, including a former chief justice, a former Federal Court judge, a former law minister and the Malaysian Bar have expressed their concern at the possibility of the appointment of an illegal and unconstitutional chief justice but the prime minister and the attorney-general are both unmoved by their concerns and reasons.

Former chief justice Abdul Hamid Mohamad has publicly stated that a further extension to the tenure of Raus after he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 66 years and six months would be unconstitutional.

Hamid wrote in his blog that he was not writing because he does not like Raus, but was merely highlighting his point of view on the constitutionality of prolonging Raus’ tenure by appointing him as an “additional judge” and extending his tenure as chief justice.

Hamid, who was chief justice from November 2007 to October 2008, stressed that an extension beyond the 66-year and six-month tenure for Raus may compromise the independence of the judiciary.

He suggested that Raus should decline the extension even if the government had offered him a renewed appointment as chief justice after Aug 3.

Ball in Raus’ court

Other jurists have expressed similar views and concerns.

Former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram said there are capable judges to take over the position of chief justice should Raus retire as the country’s top judicial officer.

He warned that if the government defied the constitutional and legal restraints and proceeds to extend the tenure of the chief justice, then it would “sow the wind but reap the whirlwind”.

The Malaysian Bar president George Varughese expressed concern that the extension of the tenure of the top judge of the country is not only unconstitutional but unfairly embroils Raus in a controversy, as well as putting in jeopardy the chief justice’s standing and giving the impression there is no one else in the judiciary who could take up the position.

Criticism of the move to retain Raus as top judge also came from former de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim and former Bar Council president Param Cumaraswamy.

Raus should be reminded that last April when he took his oath as chief justice, he pledged that he would carry out the duties of the office to the best of his abilities as required by the Federal Constitution.

The ball is now in Raus’ court - whether he is prepared to uphold the sanctity and integrity of the constitution by declining the appointment as “additional judge” and extension of his tenure as chief justice.

LIM KIT SIANG is DAP parliamentary leader and the MP for Gelang Patah.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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