The Chief Registrar's Office of the Federal Court (PKPMP) today confirmed that judges and court staff were indeed made to attend a series of National Civics Bureau (BTN) courses before the 14th general election.
However, the office clarified that the timing of the courses was a mere “coincidence,” and that the courses were neither political nor meant to "indoctrinate judges."
“The modules planned for this courses were under our purview, not just BTN.
“The modules had team-building and generic (activities), and were aimed at increasing patriotism and team spirit, as well as instilling moral values into the PKPMP community.
“We would like to stress that the planned modules were not political in nature and were not intended to indoctrinate judges’ thinking,” PKPMP said in a statement today.
The office also stressed that the courses had been planned in advance and that it was by “coincidence” that they were held in the months leading to the election.
This was in response to a Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) claim that a few months before the May 9 polls, Sessions Court judges were made to attend a BTN course, which the group called a propaganda tool for the previous BN regime.
A few days later, the LFL revealed that staff of the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya, as well as in Kuala Lumpur and Shah Alam courts, were also made to attend a BTN course, just a week after the Sessions Court judges had theirs.
It was alleged that the importance of BN maintaining power, as well as the potential sufferings of the rakyat under Pakatan Harapan was conveyed to those who took the course.
The lawyers' group had expressed concern that forcing judges to attend such courses could constitute a threat to judicial independence.
Attendance was compulsory
The first 'Latihan Transformasi Negara' (National Transformation Training) programme was held from March 16 to 18 at BTN’s Akademi Kenegaraan in Kuala Lumpur.
Today, the PKPMP admitted that another two similar courses were held in partnership with BTN on March 23 to 25 and April 6 to 8, respectively.
The office also confirmed LFL’s claim that attendance had been compulsory at these courses.
“We would like to clarify that Sessions Court judges and magistrates are considered public servants under Article 132 (1) of the Federal Constitution.
“Thus, they are subject to circulars and rules that govern public servants, including the need to attend all training and courses,” it said.
As to why it had collaborated with the controversial BTN, PKPMP said it had done so as a cost-saving measure.
“The PKPMP often works with government agencies like the BTN to save on costs required for organising training, as per the government’s policy on saving costs.
“Partnerships with other agencies is not something new and PKPMP has formed a close working relationship with other agencies, including the Judicial and Legal Training Institute (Ilkap) and the National Institute of Public Administration (Intan) for the purposes of organising training and courses,” it explained.
The BTN has long courted controversy, with allegations that it was being used by the previous BN regime to brainwash civil servants with government propaganda.
Harapan had in its election manifesto stated that it would abolish the BTN.
However, it was reported earlier last month that it would be retained under the Prime Minister's Department.