(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad should break his silence and explain the reasons for the appointment of former Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohtar Abdullah as Federal Court judge, as it has become the most controversial judicial appointment in the nationís history - marked by widespread public disapprobation and even condemnation as it is regarded as a threat to judicial reforms to restore public confidence in the judiciary.
There are many reasons why Malaysians think Mohtarís appointment as Federal Court judge inappropriate and unsuitable, but the most important one is that it was under his watch as Attorney-General for seven years that the system of justice suffered its worst erosion of public confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary, attracting adverse national and international reactions like the report "Justice in Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000" and the rating of Malaysia among five countries with the worst legal system in Asia by expatriate businessmen in the continent.
Although the new Chief Justice of the Federal Court, Tan Sri Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah had declared on assuming office that his "first priority" is to restore public and international confidence in the judiciary and "to bring back the judiciary to its past glories", Mohtarís appointment has dampened public optimism about the success of Dzaiddinís judicial reforms.
It is for this reason why Mahathir should explain the reasons for the appointment of Mothar as Federal Court judge, whether Mohtarís appointment is to checkmate Dzaiddinís judicial reforms, his own position on Dzaiddinís "first priority" to restore confidence in the judiciary and whether the Executive will give the new Chief Justice a completely free hand and full support to restore public confidence in the judiciary and bring back its "past glories".
Mahathir should also explain whether there had been a thorough-going process of consultation before the appointment of Mohtar as Federal Court judgte, not only with the Chief Justice of the Federal Court as required under Article 122B(2) of the Malaysian Constitution but with senior judges, professional groups like the Bar Council and eminent legal academicians who can speak for the public interest as well as lay persons who have the capacity to provide a non-professional (non-legal establishment) perspective on the appointment as prompted by convention.
Did Mahathir consult the de facto Law Minister, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim on Mohtarís appointment? In accordance with the principles of openness, accountability and transparency of government, Mahathir should state the persons he had consulted before the "consultation" of the Conference of Rulers on Mohtarís appointment as Federal Court judge.
As Mahathir is advocating a knowledge-economy, he should know that a K-economy does not just depend on technology and bandwidth. What is even more important is how to ensure that in the information age, knowledge becomes the gold standard of national life and governance where officialdom cannot monopolise knowledge but must deal with people as intelligent adults.
Mohtarís appointment, which has aroused all-round objection, has highlighted the need for reform and modernisation of justice in Malaysia to introduce a transparent judicial appointment process as a precondition to the restoration of public confidence in the judiciary as is practised in other Commonwealth countries.
The Malaysian people should be informed of the procedures followed in
the appointments to higher courts, that they involve a thorough-going
process of consultation and enquiry with professional groups and people
speak for the public interest and where the names of the persons
consulted are named.
A Judicial Commission should be formed, comprising judges, practising and academic lawyers, and knowledgeable lay persons to either decide on all judicial appointments or to advise the Executive as to the suitable persons to be appointed to the various judicial offices.
This will go a long way to restore public confidence in the independence of the judiciary in Malaysia. Will this proposal of a transparent judicial appointment system be in the report which Rais Yatim would be submitting to the Cabinet in March proposing ways to improve the overall administration of justice within the next three years in order to restore public confidence?