(Penang, Friday): There are at least three reasons why Tan Sri Mohtar Abdullah’s appointment as Federal Court judge is most inappropriate and unsuitable.
Firstly, it was under his watch as Attorney-General in the past seven years that the system of justice suffered its worst erosion of public confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary.
This has been admitted by the new Chief Justice of the Federal Court, Tan Sri Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah when he urged judges to face up to 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 country’s development as multinational corporations and foreign investors are reluctant to invest because they perceive there is no level playing field".
The national and international standing of the system of justice fell so precipitately in the past few years that Malaysia was ranked as amongst the five countries with the worst legal system in Asia, trailing behind Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines, Thailand and South Korea while only ahead of India, Vietnam, China and Indonesia in the recent survey of expatriate businessmen in Asia by the Hong Kong-based Political Economic And Risk Consultancy (PERC).
Although Mohtar said "let history be the judge" on his seven-year tenure as Attorney-General on his retirement, the erosion of national and international confidence in the system of justice in Malaysia as reflected in the PERC survey and a slew of adverse international assessments must be regarded as his greatest failure as one of the two most important officers in the legal and judicial services in the country in the past seven years.
The second reason why Mohtar’s appointment as Federal Court judge is most inappropriate and unsuitable was his highly controversial stewardship of the office of Attorney-General, as many of the high-profile cases initiated and handled by him in the past seven years were critical to deepening the crisis of confidence in the system of justice over the lack of a just rule of law.
The third reason for the unsuitability of Mohtar becoming a Federal Court judge is that from his record as Attorney-General, he is likely to be the strongest obstacle to judicial reforms as espoused by the new Chief Justice in his "first priority" to restore public and international confidence in the judiciary and his "mission to bring back the judiciary to its past glories".
The question raised by the appointment of Mohtar is whether the judiciary stands united behind the Chief Justice to carry out far-reaching judicial reforms to restore a truly independent judiciary and a just rule of law or whether it would be a house deeply divided for the next two years with Mohtar leading the forces of counter-reformation, with grave consequences for Malaysia’s system of justice and international competitiveness in the global marketplace.