Eusoff Chin has four days left to ensure that he does not end his tenure as Chief Justice under a cloud of judicial impropriety and misconduct

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Friday): At the Conference of Malaysian Council of Judges in Kuantan yesterday, the Chief Justice to the Federal Court Tun Mohd Eusoff Chin made public three proposals: litigants in civil cases be charged fees to speed up hearings,  evidence of witnesses be taken by affidavit if both parties agree and all hearings in chambers be conducted in open court.

Putting aside the pros and cons for these three proposals, the Malaysian public cannot but feel disappointed that the Chief Justice had failed to address the single most critical issue facing the judiciary today: the question of public confidence in  judicial independence, impartiality and accountability.

Eusoff Chin himself has still to respond to reports in Malaysiakini and Asian Wall Street Journal which uncontradicted would mean that he had publicly told a lie that he had  coincidentally "bumped" into lawyer Datuk V.K. Lingam in his New Zealand holiday in December 1994, as both reported that Eusoff and Lingam flew together with their families for their Christmas holiday in Auckland and Christchurch  from Singapore to New Zealand and back to Kuala Lumpur.

Eusoff should be mindful of the Judges’ Code of Ethics 1994 and what he himself had publicly said about the proper conduct of judges.

For instance, in the Sun of 11th March 1995, during a two-day conference of judges at the Berjaya Beach Resort in Langkawi, Eusoff "reminded judges to stay away from litigants of a case where they are presiding over as it will affect their impartiality". He said "Judges should not be seen rubbing shoulders with litigants".

Eusoff was quoted as saying: "Of course judges may know these people personally but they should refrain from mixing with them too much as this could tarnish the image and the credibility of the judiciary".

The Star of 2nd July 1996, reporting on the resignation of High Court Judge Datuk Syed Ahmad Idid Syed Abdullah Idid -  a week before the Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdullah Mohtar Abdullah announced that a high court judge was the one behind the 33-page poison-pen letter against the judiciary and that the judge concerned had resigned - Eusoff said:

"The life of a judge can be a life of a recluse.  You cannot mix freely, to be seen with lawyers, with businessman because tongues will wag, so he must always keep a low profile."

The issue of Eusoff Chin’s New Zealand holiday in December 1994 is whether the Chief Justice had conducted himself by the standards he had set for all judges - the standard of proper and judicial conduct.

Eusoff’s tenure as Chief Justice ends on Monday when he reaches 65, and he has four days left  to ensure that he does not end the high office as Chief Justice under a cloud of judicial impropriety and misconduct in failing to respond and rebut the mass media reports challenging his claim that he had "coincidentally bumped" into Lingam during his New Zealand holiday in December 1994.

Utusan Malaysia today reported that Eusoff Chin, who is to retire on Tuesday, June 20, has been given a six-month extension.

If true, the six-month extension of the office of Chief Justice to Eusoff Chin without him clearing the cloud over his judicial impropriety and misconduct arising from his New Zealand holiday can only deepen national and international disenchantment at the independence, impartiality and accountability of the judiciary in the country.

To uphod the important  principle of judicial independence, impartiality and accountability, Eusoff Chin must be told in no uncertain terms that the extension of his service as Chief Justice would be revoked if he did not publicly and satisfactorily clear the cloud of judicial impropriety and misconduct by Monday.

Malaysians would also want to know whether the two-day Conference of Malaysian Council of Judges in Kuantan had discussed the damage of  the  Eusoff Chin controversy to public confidence in the independence, impartiality and accountability of the judiciary, as well as the "Justice in Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000" report and   the latest report of the  Hong Kong-based Political Economic And Risk Consultancy (PERC)  which ranked  Malaysia as amongst the five  countries with the worst legal system in Asia - even worse than the  Philippines, Thailand and South Korea in the perceptions of Asian expatriate businessmen.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman