The Human Rights Commission headed by Tan Sri Musa Hitam and which has just been formed should act on this report to restore one of the most important human rights in Malaysia - the rule of law and a truly independent judiciary.
"Justice in Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000" is a joint report of International Bar Association, the Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, the Commonwealth Lawyers' Association and the International Lawyers' Union, based on a visit to the country in April last year by three top judges/jurists, namely Lord Abernethy from Supreme Court, Scotland, Justice N. J. McNally, Apellate Judge of the Supreme Court, Zimbabwe and Dr. Rajeev Dhavan, Senior Advocate and a Commission member of the International Commission of Jurists, India.
The 143-page report "Justice in Jeopardy: Malaysia in 2000" concludes that the extremely powerful Executive in Malaysia has not acted with due regard for the essential elements of a free and democratic society based on the rule of law,
It finds that in the vast majority of cases which come before the courts at whatever level there is no complaint about the independence of the judiciary. However, in cases which are considered of political or economic importance to the Executive, there are serious concerns that the Judiciary is not independent and this perception is also held by members of the general public.
The report sets out a series of court cases which it says show that the legal system is being manipulated for political ends, including cases where lawyers have been charged with contempt of court or sedition while defending clients. It said problems with the independence of lawyers and judges had only arisen since Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad came to power in 1981.
It said the Lim Guan Eng v Public Prosecutor case has "led to concern that the judiciary is attempting to silence, not just the Bar, but anyone who criticises the legal system".
After reviewing the facts and the judgments in the Lim Guan Eng case,
the report said:
Referring to the Court of Appeal judgement that Guan Eng had made
"an unwarranted attack on the judiciary", the Report commented:
"The case and the sentences imposed have attracted widespread criticism. We are not surprised. The view has already been expressed that either the legislation or the courts’ interpretation of it demonstrates undue severity. Later in the report, in Part IV, the repeal of the Act is called for. With regard to the sentences imposed by the Court of Appeal, frankly, we were dismayed. Having regard to all the circumstances of the case, it is difficult to see how they could possibly be justified.
"The case has left us with relatively harsh laws which censor public opinion about the working of the legal and judicial system and which merit re-examination. The decision in Lim Guan Eng’s case strengthens rather than mitigates the law relating to publications and seditions. This feeling was reinforced in the mission’s discussions with the various persons it was privileged to meet.
"The appellant appealed from the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court but his appeal was dismissed, for some reason, without a reasoned judgment. This case leaves us with a number of deep concerns."
One such concern is the "apparent willingness of some members of the judiciary to try to stifle public comments on the state of the justice system" where "robust criticism is often unwelcome".
The report said:
In its report, the four organisations urged the Government of Malaysia to recognise the independent constitutional position of the judiciary and not to interfere with this independence in any way.
Its other recommendations for the restoration of the rule of law and
a truly independent judiciary include:
Parliament should also schedule two days for a special debate on the report, "Justice In Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000" which has again put Malaysia in the dock of international opinion as failing to protect and promote a just rule of law and an independent judiciary.