The One on Justice


Written on 10/02/2007 12:19:00 am by sikapitan

Last week saw two different sorts of protest in two different countries which similarities end with sharing the same first alphabet in their name and being in ASEAN. While 2,000 lawyers marched in Putrajaya, Malaysia, thousands of protestors brave the threats from trigger happy soldiers and stake their claim for freedom in Yangon, Myanmar. While the lawyers manage to hand over their memorandum and go back to their normal lives, dozens of protestors were killed being shot while trying to exercise their inherent human right for freedom of expression.

Readers might be inclined to assume that I would compare the two situations and come to the conclusion that the Bar Council’s protest is nothing, in fact, overkill, when compared to the real atrocities going on in Myanmar. The lawyers were up in arms against the recent video release depicting senior lawyer V.K Lingam conspiring with an unknown (yes, people say that it’s the current chief justice, but that’s speculation until proven otherwise) person to appoint certain individuals, including the chief justice, into positions of importance within our judiciary 5 years ago. The people of Myanmar were up in arms for their freedom, against the oppression of the violent military junta ruling the country. Looks like a foregone conclusion?

Not in the least bit. Can’t Malaysians see that if we sit back and watch as the very essence of democracy being mocked by the people who are supposed to uphold it, the scenes we see from the streets of Yangon will be transplanted to our very own Kuala Lumpur? The very essence of democracy is the Rule of Law (roughly means: everybody is subject to the law, no one is above it), and an independent judiciary remains the cornerstone of preserving this essence.

The Malaysian judiciary have never recovered from the 1988 crisis. For those in the dark, basically what happened was that brave, intelligent and independent senior judges were “removed” from their esteemed position, just because they were bold enough to go against, the executive at that time, over a fundamental issue. I am an admirer of Tun Mahathir, but like every great man, he has his flaws. His innate desire to control every aspect of Malaysia Inc. is his strength and also his weakness. His decision at that time remains a black mark in our justice system. Malaysia suffered in the eyes of the world, whereby our judiciary was questioned and criticized.

But we remain ignorant of this, and the people were not unhappy. In fact, there was a sense of indifference, except for the brave members of the then Bar Council. Nothing came out of their resolutions condemning the sackings and their voices were drowned out by the great news of our rapid rise in world economy. It seems like people only shout when they’re hungry.

So why the big hurrah then when the justice system condemned Anwar Ibrahim to jail? Why was everyone so surprised? The die was cast years before that. Do I care about Anwar or his politics? No, BUT I do have a problem when the judiciary appears (I’m not even saying it is, but it just appears) to be influenced by certain people and their agenda.

And that’s the problem that we face at the moment. The apathy by the general public over the importance of an independent judiciary stems from the lack of knowledge, and this in turn is due to our non-inquisitive way of thinking indoctrinated by our, ironically, rapid economic progress at the expense of real cultural progress. But it’s not too late.

We can start at the way judges are chosen and their promotion. At the current moment, there is a distinct lack of transparency, and sometimes people ask me these things, and I don’t really know what or how to answer. The criteria for choosing Judicial Commissioners and Judges appear to be so mysterious, that not even the judges themselves can safely state the reason for their appointment. How are recommendations made? At least let us know that.

It WOULD be better though if a Commission be set up, consisting of seasoned practitioners, esteemed members of society, political representatives or even NGOs who would draw up a list of candidates based on a definite set of criteria that’s published clearly for the public to peruse. At this moment, almost 90% of our judges are chosen from government service ie. AG Chambers etc. I know quite a few of these judges, and I am not suggesting in any way that they’re biased or ill-equipped to deliver justice. In fact, I do believe that most of them are honest folks who would decide based on sound principles of justice in most cases. But wouldn’t it be better if there’s a balanced composition of judges manning our superior courts?

I didn’t join the march. But I hope my words here would suffice. People say that the pen is mightier than the sword. You don’t have to shout, you don’t have to throw bricks, you don’t have to picket. All you have to do is open up your mind, improve your knowledge, discuss serious issues instead of just football with your friends, read as much as you can and most importantly, share your views and learn how to accept others’. Knowledge is power. And with power comes responsibility. I hope I have fulfilled mine. Insyaallah.

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