(Petaling Jaya, Monday): A strange silence has descended on the “in-depth report to improve the administration of justice” which the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim had been talking about last year and in January, and which was to be presented to the Cabinet in March this year to be "the basis of our efforts to improve the administration of justice within the next three years and to restore public confidence".
At the Second Australia-Malaysia Conference at the Australian National University in Canberra on May 25, 2000, which Rais and I attended, I had criticised the procrastination on the part of the Cabinet to address the criticisms and recommendations in "Justice in Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000", a joint report of International Bar Association, the Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, the Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association and the International Lawyers’ Union and which was a damning indictment on the system of justice in Malaysia.
In his response at the Canberra conference, Rais said he would shortly be presenting the report to the Cabinet.
Before Rais could present a report on the administration of justice to Cabinet, he was involved in a public spat in June last year with the then Chief Justice, Tun Eusoff Chin who ridiculed Rais as merely a Minister for "tables and chairs" for the courts.
After the spat, Rais announced in July that he would present his report on the administration of justice to the Cabinet at the end of the year, clearly timing it until after the retirement of Eusuff Chin as Chief Justice on December 18, 2000.
With the appointment of Tan Sri Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah as the new Chief Justice, Rais again reminded the nation in January this year about his report on the administration of justice, and that it would be presented to the Cabinet in March this year.
In his interview with Malaysiakini in early January, Rais said that his “comprehensive report on the administration of justice” will comprise the performance of various agencies connected with the judicial process, justice, the administration of justice in general - the police, customs, immigration, the administrative aspects of the courts, and questions related to justice in general in the country.
He added that some extracts from the controversial “Justice in Jeopardy” will be included in the report.
Rais said that the report will also focus on laws pertaining to the security and public order, such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), the Police Act and the Public Order Act as well as the Printing Presses and Publications Act, which was “often criticised for its role in stifling media freedom”.
It has therefore come as a shock when Rais said last week that there would be no review of ISA although it could be reviewed in the future when the country's security situation allows for it but it may not be for some time yet.
He claimed that a review was in fact already on the cards, but when the Kampung Medan racial clashes broke out, it was untenable to continue.
Rais had been most inconsistent. If Rais was telling the truth that his “comprehensive report on the administration of justice” which included a review of the ISA was meant for presentation to the Cabinet in March this year, such a report would have been ready or already in the final stages when the Kampung Medan clashes broke out on March 8 this year.
In claiming that “a review was in fact already on the cards” until it was aborted by the Kampung Medan racial clashes, it tantamounts to an admission that there had not been any review of the ISA - despite Rais’ claim that his “comprehensive report on the administration of justice”, work on which must have started before June last year, would include a relook at the various repressive laws such as the ISA.
In any event, why should the Kampung Medan clashes abort the review on the ISA, when there was not a single person who was detained under the ISA arising from the clashes?
These inconsistencies have raised the larger question as to what has happened to Rais’ “comprehensive report on the administration of justice” and Rais should clarify whether it has been submitted to Cabinet as it is now June and why it has not been made public.
If Rais has prepared a “comprehensive report” on the administration of justice, encompassing questions related to justice in general, then it should have dealt with circumstances like attempts to pervert the course of justice as disclosed by the Sabah election judge, Justice Muhammad Kamil that he had been given a directive over the phone that the election petitions before him should be struck off without a hearing.
Rais has called on Justice Muhammad to name the person who directed him to strike out the Likas election petitions. The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad commenting on the disclosure said:
“I don’t understand. Certainly I didn’t give any directive. I don’t know, may be other people are giving directives, may be some people from some court perhaps can give directives, I don’t know.”
Mahathir is the second person to deny that he was the person responsible for the telephone directive to Justice Muhammad, the first being the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi - although why both should make such a denial remain a mystery to me, as nobody suggested that they were in any way implicated.
However, what is disturbing by the reactions of both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister is the lack of the seriousness warranted by such an outrageous attempt to pervert the course of justice.
In 1996, the then Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohtar Abdullah directed the police to launch investigations into the 33-page poison-pen letter which made 112 allegations of corruption, abuses of power and misconduct against 12 named judges because it was his “duty and responsibility” to protect the integrity of the judiciary and the administration of justice in this country.
Why shouldn’t the present Attorney-General Datuk Ainum Saaid do the same now and direct the police to launch investigations into the attempt to pervert the course of justice by the telephone directive to the Sabah election judge?
Rais should state whether he would raise this issue at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting to protect judges from attempts to suborn and subvert justice.