(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim, deserves full support if he is prepared, together with the new Chief Justice of the Federal Court, Tan Sri Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah, to embark on the uphill task to initiate judicial reforms to carry out the priority task of restoring public confidence in the judiciary.
Advocates of judicial reform to restore public confidence in the judiciary will face strong resistance, both in the administration and the judiciary, and this probably explains why Rais is not prepared to answer the question during his interview with Malaysiakini as to how much support he would have in the Cabinet to implement changes in the judicial system.
But Rais can at least be assured that far-reaching reforms to restore public confidence in the judiciary would probably be his greatest contribution to the nation and he should be prepared to stake his entire political future in their implementation and success.
Judicial independence, impartiality and integrity must be regarded as the right of every Malaysian, and not as a privilege of judicial office. In the past decade, the right of Malaysians to have their disputes heard and decided by impartial judges was seriously eroded because of the irresponsible or improper conduct of certain judges.
The restoration of public confidence in the judiciary is therefore not merely the concern of the Chief Justice and Rais Yatim, but the aspiration of all Malaysians, and this is why it is not just Dzaiddin and Rais but the entire Malaysian people and civil society who should be involved in the urgent task to restore public confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary.
It is a great irony that although the Judges’ Code of Ethics 1994 was formulated by the former Chief Justice, Tun Eusoff Chin, it was under his tenure that public confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary reached an all-time low.
One of the first steps to restore confidence in the judiciary is to recast the Judges’ Code of Ethics 1994. There should be a nation-wide debate as to why the Judges Code of Ethics had failed in the past six years to enhance public confidence in the independence, fairness and competence of the system of justice in Malaysia.
In keeping with the principle of public accountability of the judiciary, Malaysians should be told as to how the Code of Ethics had worked in the past six years, how many complaints had been received each year under the Code of Ethics, the number of judges who had been investigated and the outcome of such investigations.
The recasting of the Judges’ Code of Ethics must deal with its three major defects:
An independent and honourable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society and public confidence in the judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct by judges. A judge must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny. A judge must therefore accept restrictions on the judge’s conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly.
For this reason, the Code of Ethics should provide a specific prohibition
against a judge behaving with impropriety or the appearance of impropriety,
which apply to both the professional and personal conduct of a judge. The
test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create
in reasonable minds a perception that the judge’s ability to carry out
judicial responsibilities with integrity and impartiality is impaired.