Call for quarterly reports on judicial reforms to restore public confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary

Speech (2)
-  Penang  DAP 35th Anniversary Dinner
Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Saturday): The last 16 months since the 1999 general elections have seen the country reeling from one shock and scandal to another, whether political, economic, educational, governmental or even judicial.

Yesterday, Malaysiakini reported a speech by Court of Appeal judge Justice Datuk Shaikh Daud Ismail marking the first sitting of  the Federal Court this year - eleven days before his retirement on January 20, 2001, (although his judicial term was  subsequently extended for six months) where he spoke of his embarrassment as a judge.

He said the tinting of judges’ cars used to be  for  the security of judges  but “now I say it is to hide my embarrassment”.

Pinning  the slide of the judiciary as beginning in 1994, he said:

“All along people were confident that they could get justice in the courts but in the light of certain cases before the courts and certain going-ons in some courts, they realised that the courts have let them down.”

He also said that he was told by a prominent lawyer that litigants were very confident of winning “hopeless cases” as long as they were  filed in “certain courts”.

He said  that when he joined the judicial and legal service in 1963, the judiciary was a “beautiful and well-respected” institution.  The judiciary was held in high esteem by locals as well as by foreigners, especially by those from the Commonwealth countries.

The situation now was that litigants and lawyers were concerned that when they appear in courts, they would be subjected to contempt proceedings for the slightest reasons.

He said: “Some judges think the independence of the judiciary means they can do whatever they like because they have the power and at a stroke of a pen they can send anyone to prison for contempt or other reasons. To me, these judges do not understand the actual meaning of the  term independence of the judiciary.”

Shaik Daud advised his colleagues not to merely be a “yes men” but to be judges.

Shaik Daud hoped  that the new Chief Justice of the Federal Court, Tan Sri  Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah would be successful in bringing back the glory that the judiciary once had.

He said: “The judiciary must be put back in its right place. It must be respected and held in high esteem by all strata of society, including  the executive. The independence of the judiciary must never be compromised.”

I feel  great satisfaction to hear voices in the defence of the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary coming from all quarters,  even from  inside the judiciary, when in the past decade, Karpal Singh and I were the two lonely voices in Parliament espousing what was regarded as a subversive cause - a truly independent judiciary and a just rule of law.

Battle for justice, freedom and truth are never totally lost as even in the blackest hour, there are  silver linings to keep the struggle alive until more conducive times.

The battle for the restoration for independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary has not yet been won.  Dzaiddin does not have much time to restore the judiciary to its past glory as he has only two years as Chief Justice.
To ensure that efforts are fully focussed and that no momentum is lost,  there should be  quarterly reports on judicial reforms to restore public confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary.

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim said recently that the government will build  a memorial for Lord Presidents and Chief Justices in honour of their services to the judiciary and nation, to be named  "The Tun Suffian Memorial".

Probably the Memorial should have two different rooms to separate those who had upheld and enhanced public confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary and those who had undermined or subverted public confidence in  judicial independence, impartiality and integrity.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman