(Penang, Thursday): The Minister in the Prime Ministerís Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim announced yesterday that an in-depth report proposing ways to improve the overall administration of justice in the country is likely to be presented to the Cabinet in March and that it would be "the basis of our efforts to improve the administration of justice within the next three years and to restore public confidence".
This should be good news as part of the long-awaited wide-ranging judicial and legal reforms in the country to restore the just rule of law and a truly independent judiciary - as it is an open secret that Raisí report on the administration of justice had to be stood down until the eventual retirement of the former Chief Justice, Tun Eusuff Chin, who did not hide his hostility and contempt for Rais, whom he publicly decried as merely a Minister for "tables and chairs".
Raisí announcement that such a report would finally see the light of day did not succeed, however, in raising hopes and spirits as the elevation of former Attorney-General, Tan Sri Mohtar Abdullah, as a Federal Court judge has caused consternation in the judicial and legal community and cast a dark pall in the country after a month of euphoria that the long-standing crisis of confidence in the judiciary which had undermined Malaysiaís investment climate and international competitiveness would at last be addressed.
Mohtarís appointment is likely to go down in Malaysian history as one of the most controversial judicial appointments because he was a key player in the past six years as the Attorney-General in the events which brought the system of justice to a new low in national and international esteem, causing the international legal and judicial community to send a fact-finding mission to the country in 1999 "following reports that the independence of the judiciary was under threat and that lawyers were facing difficulties in carrying out their work freely and independently" and issuing a most damning indictment in its report "Justice in Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000".
Since his appointment as the new Chief Justice of the Federal Court on December 20, 2000, Tan Sri Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah has done much to arrest the erosion of public confidence in the judiciary with his courageous admission of the "unpalatable fact that public confidence in the judiciary has eroded in the last few years" and that "this negative perception has held back the countryís development as multinational corporations and foreign investors are reluctant to invest because they perceive there is no level playing field" as well as his public commitment that his "first priority is to restore public and international confidence in the judiciary" and his "mission to bring back the judiciary to its past glories".
Having arrested the erosion of public confidence in the judiciary with
his clear-cut message to end the denial syndrome in the judiciary
about the need for far-reaching judicial reforms, the country and
the world are expectantly awaiting concrete details of such
judicial reforms to embark on the process to restore public confidence
in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the
The high-profile appointment of Mohtar as Federal Court judge because of the likelihood of his being appointed President of the Court of Appeal in March and the Chief Justice of the Federal Court after the end of Dzaiddinís two-year term has raised the question as to whether Dzaiddinís judicial reforms are under peril even before they are fully on track.
Mohtar Abdullah should declare whether he fully supports Dzaiddin in placing the restoration of national and international confidence in the judiciary as the top and most urgent priority for all judges.
Malaysians are entitled to know whether Mohtar Abdullah would support or be an obstacle to Dzaiddinís efforts at judicial reforms - whether the judiciary would be united behind the Chief Justice or whether it would be a house deeply divided for the next two years, with grave consequences for Malaysiaís international competitiveness in the international marketplace.