Sorry CJ, you missed the point!

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MP SPEAKS | Recently, our present Chief Justice (CJ, Md Raus Sharif) was reported to have said that our judiciary is independent. To prove his point, he suggested to journalists to ask some former judges who had served in the judiciary. Those judges had been lawyers before they were appointed judges.

He also reiterated that judges have never tried to influence their peers at any level. He even had the audacity to say that the independence of the judiciary is vital in any institution. That is why, as he reminded journalists, he never gave any instructions or directions to any judge at any level.

He also cautioned the journalists with the following words: "As a CJ, I told my colleagues to decide any case before them, based on law. They are free to make their own decisions. No interference." (literally translated from Malay).

Before I give my comment, I have to enter the following caveat. Rest assured, I have nothing personal against the CJ (photo), or any judge, for that matter. Being a lawyer, I have, fortunately, the privilege of appearing before many judges, including our present CJ. I won some and I lost some. Honestly, I have no problem with that.

But, in my view, winning or losing any case before any judge is not the sole criterion for the assessment of the independence of the judiciary.

In an old case, R vs Sussex, ex-parte McCarthy (1924) 1 KB 256, it brought into the common parlance the oft-quoted aphorism "Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done". I believe that if we want to be known to have an independent judiciary, we need to modify a little bit the said adage "judges must be independent and must be seen to be independent".

Highest law of the land violated

Whether the CJ realises it or not, his mind-boggling appointment as a new CJ has unfortunately shattered the general perception of people on the independence of our judiciary. Even a former CJ could not remain idle. He also questioned the said appointment. Many legal giants believe that the government had blatantly and flagrantly violated our highest law of the land in appointing our present CJ.

Being a top judge of the country, the CJ should have no problem in recognising the legal and moral consequences if an appointment of any CJ in this country is to be riddled with controversy. Such a controversy would definitely affect the public perception and trust in the independence of our judicial system.

I strongly believe that our country possesses many able and qualified judges to be duly appointed as a CJ. This does not mean that the present CJ is not able and qualified. I never insinuated that. It is unfortunate that, due to constitutional constraints, the CJ should have never been appointed as a CJ, even if his grasp of law is excellent or superb. The Constitution bars him from holding the office. Period.

Constitutionally speaking, the office of CJ is closely linked to the appointment of many judges in our land. Therein lies the importance of having an independent judiciary.

I am a firm believer of meritocracy simply because I believe any appointment of any public officer must be based on merits and integrity. Races should be excluded.

In fact, I publicly said so in Parliament. I even said, to the disgust of some Malay and Muslim hardliners, that I have no qualms about the appointment of a non-Malay or one from East Malaysia as the CJ, so long, of course, he or she is legally and constitutionally qualified. After all, we are all Malaysians and no Malaysian should be discriminated against.

MOHAMED HANIPA MAIDIN is the MP for Sepang and Parti Amanah Negara central committee member.

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

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