Government should consider revival of jury system if JPs are to be appointed as second-class magistrates to help clear the backlog of minor cases in the courts

Media Statement
Lim Kit Siang

(PenangThursday): The government should consider the revival of the jury system if Justices of Peace (JPs) are to be appointed as second-class magistrates to help clear the backlog of minor cases in the courts. 

This will be in accordance with the tradition of justice in the United Kingdom  on which the Malaysian legal system had been patterned after, that laws are made and enforced on behalf of the people resulting in ordinary people, untrained in the law, taking part in the legal process – either as members of juries or as magistrates.

Students of law know that  the part played by lay magistrates, also known as Justices of the Peace, in the English  judicial system of England went as far as  1195 when  Richard I commissioned certain knights  to  preserve the "King's Peace", and the title Justice of the Peace (JP) first appeared in 1361, in the reign of Edward III.

The JPs system has gone through various combinations and permutations in the Commonwealth countries, as in Australia, there are JPs who are specially entrusted by their community to take on special responsibilities within the legal system, a position which is open to public applications with examinations for JPs.

Malaysia must be very careful in any attempt to appoint JPs to act as second-class magistrates to help dispense justice for two reasons: 

  • Firslty, the  JPs system  had  taken a completely different tack of development in Malaysia as compared with other Commonwealth countries, where conferment of JPs is more for social prestige than for community development; and
  • Secondly, the deluge of state honours and awards, to the extent that former Federal Court judge  Tan Sri Harun Hashim in his  “Benchmark” column in the New Straits Times (21.8.2003) under the heading “Royal birthday a time to celebrate Ruler’s reign”, lamented that the “deluge of Datukships tends to rob the signal honour conferred on the recipients” – a critique which applies equally  to the JPship.

In his column, Harun referred to “a set of criteria before a particular award can be conferred on an individual in terms of his standing in society”. What  is the criteria for the award of JPs and other honours and have these criteria been strictly and scrupulously adhered to? Is there accountability, transparency and integrity in such decision-making? 

Blogger Jeffooi has rightly reflected public concerns about the proliferation of honours and awards in Malaysia when he pointed out in Screenshots ( on 20.7.03 that 87 people were  awarded honours and medals in conjunction with the 41st birthday of the Sultan of Tererngganu while 1,398 awards were given out in conjunction with the Penang Yang di Pertua Negri’s birthday the previous week. 

Before any definitive decision is taken on the appointment of JPs as second-class magistrates, there should be a comprehensive review of the entire system of award of honours and medals, including  JPs,  and the introduction of a publicly-known set of criteria and the principles of accountability and transparency to restore public confidence in the award of state honours and medals.  Furthermore, a study should be made on the innovations and reforms which have been introduced in other Commonwealth countries to make JPs more professional in helping to dispense justice at the lower tiers of the justice system.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman