Lamin’s statement outmoded and undemocratic and must be repudiated  by the Cabinet and Parliament to demonstrate their  commitment to the principles of democracy, accountability and transparency

2001 Deepavali Message
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The statement by the retired Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Lamin Yunus that lawyer Raja Aziz Addruse’s remarks about the appointment of Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim as the new Chief Judge of Malaya was tantamount to publicly questioning the integrity of the Yang di Pertuan Agong is misconceived, outmoded and undemocratic  and must be repudiated by the Cabinet and Parliament to demonstrate their commitment to the principles of democracy, accountability and transparency.

Lamin was wrong and totally misguided to allege that Raja Aziz was guilty of launching an attack on the Yang di Pertuan Agong when everybody knows that Raja Aziz had no such  intent as  no democrat of the 21st century can make such an inference when all Raja Aziz  wanted was only  to raise the public interest issues of the  propriety, accountability and transparency of judicial appointments.

I am reminded of the baseless allegation hurled against me by a senior Cabinet Minister in the seventies, accusing me of disrespect and questioning the integrity of the Yang di Pertuan Agong, when I sought to move an amendment in Parliament  to a motion of Thanks to the Yang di Pertuan Agong for his Royal Address in order to highlight issues of grave national importance omitted in the government’s policy speech.

Such an amendment to a motion of thanks for the Royal Address is a common spectacle in other Commonwealth Parliaments but in Malaysia it was perversely  regarded in the seventies as an assault on the integrity of the Yang di Pertuan Agong.  At least, Cabinet Ministers and MPs are now more educated as not to espouse such undemocratic, feudal and outmoded notions - but it is shocking that such mentality are still very alive among Malaysian jurists, like the recently retired president of the Court of Appeal.

Is Lamin seriously suggesting that the Attorney-General should arrest and prosecute Raja Aziz for sedition or even treason for his article in the recent issue of Insaf, the Malaysian Bar journal?

In his article, Raja Aziz commended the  Chief Justice Tan Sri Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah for paving the road to recovery for the judiciary and creating an atmosphere where now “judges are seen to perform their function with more confidence” but questioned the choice of Justice Datuk Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim as the Chief Judge of Malaya, suggesting that Justice Malik Ahmad should have been appointed instead based on both grounds of seniority and merit.

Raja Aziz referred to the “apprehension” felt by many members of the Bar that the improvement of the judiciary might  be short-lived with  the appointment of Ahmad Fairuz as Chief Judge, Malaya, and discussed the several controversial judgements made by or involving Ahmad Fairuz, including the Court of appeal decisions in the contempt cases of Murray Hiebert and Zainur Zakaria; the dismissal of the Malaysian Bar’s appeal against the decision of the High Court to restrain the holding of an extraordinary general meeting of the Bar on, among others, the ground that the Federal Constitution prohibited any discussion on the conduct of judges except in Parliament; and his decision as election judge in 1995 where, after nullifying   the election of the  DAP MP for Bukit Bintang on the ground of having been disqualified from standing as a candidate, returned the losing MCA candidate as Member of Parliament without requiring the process of holding a by-election to be gone through.

What Malaysia sorely lacks is the robust  tradition of vigorous, trenchant but legitimate criticism of judicial decisions  and  conduct to maintain  public confidence in the judiciary, and Raja Aziz must be commended for blazing the path to create such a tradition - rather than the reverse scenario of subjecting him to  threats of  charges of sedition or even treason to ensure a cowed Bar and a subservient judiciary.

Malaysians regardless of political beliefs should be concerned by Lamin’s attempt to undo the good work done by Dzaiddin to restore public confidence in the judiciary and Parliament, when it reconvenes next Monday after its Deepavali break, should schedule a special debate to repudiate the Lamin thesis that criticisms of judicial appointments are  tantamount to sedition or treason for questioning the integrity of the Yang di Pertuan Agong.

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr.  Rais Yatim, who hitherto had  been very quick-on-the-draw on legal controversies should  be the first Cabinet Minister to repudiate the outmoded but dangerous Lamin doctrine.

In fact, the Bar, the legal community and the civil society should speak up loud and clear to repudiate the Lamin doctrine, as the last thing Malaysia  should do in the first year of the new century is to lapse to the past of a governance, whether administrative or judicial, which is divorced from democracy, accountability and transparency.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman