Appointment of former chief justice a month after retirement to a firm which he had awarded a favourable judgment two days before retirement raises grave conflict-of-interest issues affecting public confidence in the judiciary
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The appointment of former chief justice a month after retirement to a firm which he had awarded a favourable judgment two days before retirement raises grave conflict-of-interest issues affecting public confidence in the judiciary.
The report in The Star today entitled “Questions over ex-CJ’s new job – Bar meeting on retired judge joining law firm” referring to Tun Mohamad Dzaiddin Abdullah after 27 months as Chief Justice of the Federal Court has raised public concerns about the propriety of such an appointment, because of the various established canons of ethical conduct for public servants in general and judges in particular.
In countries with developed codes of ethical conduct, there are specific regulations providing for an enforceable conflict of interest and post-employment code for public office holders, including judges, to enhance public confidence in the integrity of public office-holders and the decision-making process in government.
Such a code, for instance, would provide that public office holders shall not act, after they leave public office, in such a manner as to take improper advantage of their previous public office with specific provisions to minimize the possibilities of allowing prospects of outside employment to create a real, potential or apparent conflict of interest for public office holders while in public office.
A very commonplace provision is a time bar of at least two years to restrict a public office holder from taking up an employment which could give rise to conflicts of interest, whether real, potential or apparent, with his official responsibility in the last year in public service.
The latest controversy in the judiciary could have been avoided if the Judges Code of Ethics had been better framed to provide for such a post-tenure scenario, instead of being a most unsatisfactory Code which had led to one judicial scandal after another and embroiling one Chief Justice after another.
Although the new Chief Justice has talked about reviewing the Judges Code of Ethics, what is needed is a total revamp so that the Judges’ Code can provide guidance to the many difficult ethical issues confronting judges as well as a satisfactorily mechanism to receive and deal with public complaints of breaches of the Code by the judiciary.
As the dispensation of justice and the principle of the independence of the judiciary do not just concern judges, lawyers and the lay public must be involved in the overhaul of the Judges’ Code of Ethics so that it could play an effective role to restore public confidence in the judiciary.
The time has also come for the country to draw up an enforceable Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code for public office holders to restore public confidence in the integrity of public office holders and the government decision-making process.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman