RCI on boot camp for delinquent judges – critical test of Abdullah’s political will for judicial reforms

Posted by SM Maulana

LIM KIT SIANG

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the de facto Law Minister, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim have both poured cold waters on calls for an inquiry into the latest allegation levelled by High Court judge, Justice Datuk Ian Chin against former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.

“No need…there will be no end to this. Instead, we will carry out reforms to restore confidence in the judiciary” said Abdullah.

“Another inquiry will not reveal anything more than what we already know. It will be a waste of time and money. Instead, we need to look at ensuring such incidents do not happen again…” said Zaid.

Both cannot be more wrong.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry into the two decades of judicial darkness, including the boot camp for delinquent judges, is vital and imperative as critical test of the political will of the Abdullah administration to fully restore public confidence in the system of justice in Malaysia.

Although there have been promises of judicial reform after the March 8 political tsunami, it is still an open question whether the Prime Minister has the political will to carry out root-and-branch reforms to fully restore the Malaysian judiciary to its heyday before the past two decades of judicial darkness, when it enjoyed international recognition as a world-class judiciary.

Whether Abdullah has the political will to fully see through judicial reforms will be judged by two factors.

Firstly, whether the Abdullah premiership has the political will to end its denial syndrome about the rot and decay of the judicial system in the past two decades.

Datuk Ian Chin has made very serious allegations of Mahathir’s interference with judicial independence when he was Prime Minister , viz:

• Mahathir had gone to a judges conference “to issue a thinly veiled threat to remove judges by referring to the tribunal that was set up before”.

• Mahathir expressed unhappiness over Chin’s decision on a libel suit and an election petition, and expressed the view that people should pay heavily for libel.

• Mahathir had promoted a judge to the Federal Court because he approved of his suggestion of RM1 million as damages for libel.

• Chin also said he was sent to a “boot camp” with selected judges and judicial officers in “an attempt to indoctrinate those attending to hold the view that the government’s interest” was “more important than all else when we are considering our judgments”. He accused the then president of the Court of Appeal as the one who made the “devilish notion”.

Zaid had admitted that he was hearing about the “boot camp” for delinquent judges for the first time, adding that it was something that should not have happened.

But why is he hanging back from supporting a full inquiry into the “boot camp” allegation, which until it is fully cleared up, will be an eternal blot and ignominy on both the judiciary and the executive in the annals of Malaysian nation-buiding?

The Prime Minister and de facto Law Minister should realize that the best way to ensure that there is no recurrence of judicial outrages and scandals like those exposed by Chin is to unearth all the skeletons hidden in the cupboards, nay silos, during the two decades of judicial darkness and subject them to the glare of public scrutiny and opprobrium.

Abdullah said he has finally heard the voice of the people after the March 8 “political tsunami”, and if so, he should set up a full Royal Commission of Inquiry into the two decades of judicial darkness because this is what the overwhelming majority of Malaysians want.

I have no doubt that this will be the finding if there is a national opinion poll as to whether there should be a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the two decades of judicial darkness – not so much to demand any pound of flesh from anyone, but to allow the nation to undergo a national catharsis which will be the best insurance against any recurrence of such prolonged judicial aberrations.

The second test as to whether Abdullah has the political will to be fully committed to judicial reforms is whether the appointment of the new Chief Justice in a matter of months will be under a regime of full accountability, transparency and integrity regardless of whether any proposed judicial reforms are put in place or not.

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