Eusoff’s greatest contribution to the system of justice is to decline the six-month extension of his term as Chief Justice to spare the judiciary from further embarrassment because of his inability to clear the cloud of his judicial impropriety and misconduct over his New Zealand holiday with lawyer Datuk V. K. Lingam in December 1994.
Although Eusoff had said that he had "coincidentally bumped" into Lingam in New Zealand, Malaysiakini and Asian Wall Street Journal had 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’s silence in the face of such contradictory reports is not conducive to the restoration of public confidence in the accountability, independence, impartiality and integrity of the Malaysian judiciary.
Last Friday, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had intimated that Eusoff’s tenure as Chief Justice would be extended to "enable Eusoff to put things in order before he retired", saying: "I think it will be extended because we have the need to see that everything is in place before he leaves".
It is an unacceptable reason for the extension of Eusoff’s term as Chief Justice that he had not been able to "put things in order before he retired" as this adversely reflected on the competence and efficiency of his discharge of the office and duties as Chief Justice, when he knew all along the date his retirement would be due.
A Chief Justice or judge who had failed to "put things in order" and ensured that "everything is in place" when retirement arrives would have violated the Judges’ Code of Ethics 1994 on "lack efficiency or industry", and it should in fact be the strongest reason why there should be no six-month extension which should only be granted in the most extraordinary and exceptional of circumstances.
Is the Prime Minister or the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim who is in charge of the portfolio of law and justice, able to enlighten Malaysians as to whether and what are extraordinary and exceptional circumstances to justify Eusoff’s six-month extension as Chief Justice?
The Chief Justice seems to have run afoul of another rule in the Judges’ Code of Ethics prepared by him and made public in December 1994 five days before his departure for the controversial New Zealand holidays.
The Judges’ Code of Ethics stipulated that a judge should not "inordinately and without reasonable explanation delay in the disposal of cases, and delivery of decisions and the writing of grounds of judgment".
Two weeks ago, Eusoff announced that the Federal Court, which reserved judgment two-and-a-half years ago in the appeals by freelance journalist M.G.G.Pillai and two others who were ordered to pay RM7 million to Tan Sri Vincent Tan for libel would deliver its decision soon.
The three-man panel, headed by Eusoff, had reserved its judgment on January 13, 1998, after hearing submissions by Tan’s counsel Datuk V.K. Lingam and counsel for the appellants Karpal Singh (for Pillai) and Shamsul Baharin (for the editor of the Malaysian Industry magazine) Hassan Hamzah and its publisher Media Printext (M) Sdn. Bhd.
The failure of the Federal Court headed by Eusoff to deliver judgment after more than two-and-a-half years and even on the last day of his tenure as Chief Justice before any extension clearly falls under the prohibition in the Judges’ Code of Ethics on "inordinately and without reasonable explanation delay in the disposal of cases, and delivery of decisions and the writing of grounds of judgment".
This is in fact another strong and powerful reason why Eusoff’s tenure as Chief Justice should not be further extended.
Article 122B(1) of the Constitution provides that "The Chief Justice of the Federal Court, the President of the Court of Appeal and the Chief Judges of the High Courts and the other judges of the Federal Court, of the Court of Appeal and of the High Court shall be appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister, after consulting the Conference of Rulers."
Article 38 (2) (c) stipulates that "The Conference of Rulers shall exercise its functions of consenting or withholding consent to any law and making or giving advice on any appointment which under this Constitution requires the consent of the Conference or is to be made by or after consultation with the Conference".
Malaysians are entitled to know whether the Yang di Pertuan Agong and the Conference of Rulers, before exercising their constitutional powers to extend Eusoff’s term as Chief Justice for six months, had been fully briefed of the two factors and their possible breach of the Judges’ Code of Ethics.
Eusoff’s should put the interests of the nation and the judicial system above all else and decline the six-month extension as Chief Justice approved by the Yang di Pertuan Agong and the Conference of Rulers unless he could immediately clear the cloud of judicial impropriety and misconduct over his New Zealand holidays - so that the country can embark on the road to restoration of national and international confidence in the accountability, independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary.