Appoint Justice Siti Norma as Chief Judge to dispel perception of fear and resistance to appointment of women to the highest judicial offices in the land
- on the Constitution Amendment Bill 2004
by Lim Kit Siang
Monday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad
Badawi said yesterday one should not fear the emancipation and empowerment
of women as it is beneficial to humankind and society as a whole, and that
the acknowledgement of the rights of women, be it Muslim or non-Muslim,
should be regarded as one of the 10 principles of Islam Hadhari (Civilisational
Islam) enabling them to gain the status they are entitled to.
It is more than two months since the retirement of Tan Sri Haidar Mohamed Noor as the Chief Judge of Malaya on November 8 last year, but his successor has not been named.
Such inordinate delays in the appointment of key judicial positions is unacceptable and does not reflect well on the efficiency, effectiveness and professionalism of the system of administration of justice, especially as the retirement of senior judges is known long beforehand.
Is the delay in the appointment of the Chief Judge related to the constitutional amendment to raise the retirement age of judges from 65 to 66?
The Chief Justice, the Prime
Minister and the Conference of Rulers – the three parties directly involved
in the decision-making process concerning senior judicial appointments -
should give fair consideration to the appointment of Justice Datuk Siti
Norma Yaakob, the most senior Federal Court judge who had been bypassed
thrice for promotion to the three highest judicial offices in the land, as
the new Chief Judge of Malaya, so as to dispel the perception of fear and
resistance to the appointment of women to the highest judicial offices in
Siti Norma is even more senior that the Chief Justice of Federal Court, Tan Sri Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim, who was made a judge only in August 1990, and the President of the Court of Appeal, Datuk Abdul Malek Ahmad who was appointed High Court judge in March 1992.
In this connection, I wish to refer to the Bar Council’s memorandum to the Chief Justice in October 2002 on “Judicial Appointments in Malaysia”, setting out the criteria and principles for judicial appointments to ensure judicial excellence and independence, viz:
The Bar Council memorandum submitted the following qualities as essential in a judge:
(a) Legal Ability
(b) Strength of Character
(c) Personal Skills
(d) Judicial Quality
On judicial promotions, the Bar Council memorandum stressed that it should be based on merit and the same criteria for judicial appointments. Furthermore, seniority should ordinarily be the prime consideration and if it is to be departed from, it must be in exceptional circumstances.
If Justice Siti Norma is to be bypassed once again from judicial promotion, excluding her from all the three highest judicial offices of the land, Parliament and the nation are entitled to an explanation as to the “exceptional circumstances” whereby her seniority and experience had again and again been sidelined.
As this is the first constitutional amendment affecting the judiciary under the premiership of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, bearing in mind the crisis of confidence which had plagued the system of justice for one-and-half decades from 1988, one would expect that it would be a most important amendment to fully restore and enhance public confidence both national and international, in the efficiency, professionalism, independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary.
It is most disappointing that no such constitutional amendment to fully restore national and international confidence in a truly independent judiciary and a just rule of law has been presented to Parliament. In fact, the Bar Council has not even been consulted or informed about the Constitution Amendment Bill 2004 although it pertains to judicial and constitutional matters.
No progress has been made in judicial reforms, as in setting out clear criteria and principles for judicial appointments and promotions proposed by the Bar Council, and its proposal for the establishment of a Judicial Services Commission, which are based on the Latimer House Guidelines 1998 for Commonwealth judicial reforms. Even all talk of revision and update of the Judges Code of Ethics have ended.
The country cannot pretend that the dark chapter of the judiciary of the past decade never happened or could never return. Parliament and the nation have the responsibility to ensure that the system of justice in Malaysia will never again plunge ino the abyss from which it has not yet fully recovered. A Royal Commission of Inquiry to fully restore national and international confidence in the system of justice in Malaysia must be established as a top national agenda, and I urge the Prime Minister to give this his full support and priority.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman