Cabinet should  establish a Judicial Propriety and  Integrity  Commission to uphold public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of judges

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): Yesterday, the Chief Justice of the Federal Court Mohd Eusoff Chin broke his silence about the photographs of him and lawyer Datuk V.K. Lingam  holidaying in New Zealand which had been posted on the Internet for the past few years.

He said he had paid for his holiday in New Zealand in 1994 where he "bumped" into Lingam. He said he was on his way to a zoo when he met Lingam who tagged along and later posed for photographs with him.

He added that even when he was visiting London, he had met  some senior lawyers, law students and court officials, and they liked to have their photographs taken with him.

He said:  "Sometimes people put their face close to you or put their hands  over your shoulder when taking photographs, and you just can't  push them away."

As a result of Eusoff’s comments, I visited the Internet site which put up four photographs of the families of Eusuff and Lingam holidaying together in New Zealand. In two of the four photographs, it was not just Lingam putting his hand over Eusoff’s shoulder, but also Eusuff putting his hand over Lingam’s shoulder.

One photograph shows the two families in a boat.  Did they go to the zoo in a boat?

Be that as it may, national and international opinion take a serious view of the principle behind the controversy, now involving a Cabinet Minister, that justice must not only be done, but  must be seen to be done; that judges must not only be fair, but seen to be fair, including that judges should not be perceived as having specially close personal relationships with certain  lawyers who appear before them.

It was in this regard that the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for law and justice, Datuk Rais Yatim,  said in Canberra last month that Eusoff had been told that it was  inappropriate to holiday with the counsel of a prominent business  tycoon.

Rais (whom Eusoff ridiculed as Minister for "tables and chairs") said in Australia:  "Certainly such socialising, shall I say, is not in keeping with the proper  behaviour of a judicial personality and we have intimated to the Chief  Justice that this is a behaviour improper, and this has been intimated to him in no uncertain terms."

Yesterday, Eusoff  denied that anyone had talked to him, saying: "As far as I am concerned no one had any dialogue with me. Never talked to me at all.  Not only about this. Not about any other matter as well. He only speaks to the papers."

The ball is now in the court of Rais and the Cabinet, who should make it very clear to the Chief Justice and the judges as to what is proper and improper judicial behaviour.

The Malaysian public would want to know whether the Cabinet is going to back up Rais in his stand that the Chief Justice’s  "socialising"  with lawyer Lingam while  holidaying  in New Zealand was not "proper behaviour of a judicial personality".

If the Cabinet backs Rais, then the Cabinet should set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry to review all cases involving both the Chief Justice on the bench and Lingam as one of the counsels to remove all doubts that such improper behaviour had in anyway compromised judicial independence, impartiality and integrity.

A Judicial Impropriety and Integrity  Commission should be set up to uphold public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of judges with powers  both to receive and investigate public complaints of any lapses as there is no proper mechanism to deal with this problem.  The Anti-Corruption Agency is just unacceptable as it has no  record of effectively dealing with serious complaints about corruption. Furthermore, not all complaints about improper judicial conduct fall under the purview of the Anti-Corruption Agency.

The comment by the Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Lamin Yunus when asked about the judiciary’s "tarnished image" is most distressing.  Lamin’s reply that  he did not care about such criticism "as long as my conscience is clear" is reflective of a judiciary which has contempt for public opinion and the principles of accountability and transparency which runs counter to the fundamental principles of good governance.

Parliament at its meeting next month should hold a full and comprehensive debate on the state of the judiciary in the country.

*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman