(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The Cabinet tomorrow should take note of the national disgust and disquiet at the appointment of Mohtar Abdullah as Federal Court judge as no judicial appointment in the nationís history has received so widespread a public disapprobation and regarded as a threat to judicial reforms to restore public confidence in the judiciary.
The Cabinet should set up a commission of inquiry comprising eminent jurists to review his seven-year tenure as Attorney-General as to how it had contributed to the loss of public confidence in the system of justice.
In the United States, there is a vigorous public debate on the stewardship of the Justice Department by Clintonís Attorney-General, Janet Reno, in her seven years in office. Described as one of the most praised and criticized officials in the Clinton administration, Reno had been praised as "a paragon of public virtue" on the one hand and denounced as "rudderless and partisan, the administration's guardian angel as well as its biggest liability" on the other.
There should be a vigorous public debate in Malaysia on Mohtarís seven years as Attorney-General, especially as it was under his watch as Attorney-General 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 countryís 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 like
"Justice in Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000" by the international legal community
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.
Mohtar must take direct personal responsibility for the serious erosion of public confidence in the system of justice as under Article 145 (2) of the Constitution, it is his duty to advise the government on all legal matters.
The commission of inquiry into Mohtarís tenure as Attorney-General should in particular examine whether he had carried out fairly and judiciously the discretionary power assigned to him by Article 145(3) of the Constitution "to institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings for an offence" and had not been guilty of selective prosecution and selective justice, as well as examine in particular his decisions and conduct in many high-profile cases which had collectively brought the Malaysian justice system to such ill repute both nationally and internationally - such as the cases involving Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Guan Eng, Karpal Singh, Irene Fernandez, Param Cumaraswamy, Rahim Thamby Cik, Jeffrey Kitingan as well as the 112 serious allegations of corruption and malpractices against 12 judges made by a serving High Court Judge, who was never charged in court.
The strongest reason why all the Barisan Alternative parties as well as NGOs like Aliran have publicly declared their objection and protest at Mohtarís appointment as Federal Court judge is simply due to the fact as the Attorney-General in the past seven years, he must bear direct and full responsibility for allowing the system of justice in the country to fall so low in public esteem, whether in the country or internationally.