24September2020

Agenda Daily

HANDLE JUDICIOUSLY

The Judiciary has been under the spotlight lately for various issues including the still unfilled post of Chief Judge of Malaya. There is a need to handle this matter wisely to avert the possibility of another constitutional crisis.

 

the star’s aug 22 report, quoting the chief justice, tun ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim as saying that judges who behave inappropriately in and outside the courtroom will be removed through a tribunal, is ominous.

He went on to define ‘inappropriate behaviour’ as ‘mixing a lot with corporate people, being biased, consistently not writing grounds for judgment’ and ‘being very moody and highly temperamental in court’.

It is interesting that the CJ should single out ‘mixing a lot with corporate people’ as one of the key improprieties of judges that could lead them to being removed.

For decades now there has been talk that some judges are too close to, or are being seen too often in the company of, some less-than-wholesome corporate figures in and outside the country.


There have been allegations that some corporate figures could pick and choose which judge they would appear before when their cases were heard.

Of course, stories of judges not writing judgments or being slow in doing so are not only common but are also proving to be true.

Soon after the CJ’s warning, the New Straits Times reported that the Court of Appeal’s registry records revealed that a former High Court judge had not written grounds of judgment for 33 criminal and civil cases.

The backlog included three criminal cases in Seremban, which carries the death penalty. The judge presided over the cases while serving at the High Court there five years ago.

The rest are civil cases in which he made rulings while in Seremban and in Kuala Lumpur between 1999 and 2002.

The NST said in its report that the litigants in all 33 cases had filed notices of appeal against decisions by the judge who is now sitting in the Federal Court.

Speaking to reporters after launching the ‘Ahmad Ibrahim: Thoughts and Knowledge Contribution’ seminar organised by the Malaysian Institute of Islamic Understanding in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 21, the CJ said many factors were taken into consideration before a judge was promoted.

‘We consider not only whether he wrote his grounds of decision, but whether he has cleared a lot of cases or not. Also important is whether his judicial temperament is maintained, such as he does not shout and yell at people in public.’

But as for judges mixing with corporate figures, we have to be reasonable in our expectations. For instance, what can the judges do when they are invited to play golf with the Prime Minister or a Ruler, where the other invitees include tycoons and corporate executives?

It must be borne in mind that unlike the previous Prime Minister who does not play golf, the present one is an avid golfer. Golfing with the Prime Minister of any country must be the high point in the life of any golfer, including a judge.

Handling a rejection

I wonder if the way the CJ responded to the Press has anything to do with the Singapore Straits Times’ sensational report that the recent meeting of the Conference of Rulers ‘rejected’ the Prime Minister’s choice of candidate for the post of Chief Judge of Malaya.

If indeed this is the case, then several nagging questions come to mind.

Why did the Rulers ‘reject’ the Prime Minister’s candidate who was recommended by the CJ, as stipulated in the Constitution?

Why did the Prime Minister not attend the Conference to explain his recommendation? There wasn’t a clear explanation as to his whereabouts or his programme during that period.

All that was known was that he had left just before the meeting and was represented by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Abdul Razak.

According to the Malaysia Today Internet news portal, the Prime Minister was later ‘summoned’ for an audience with the Sultan of Perak, Raja Azlan Shah, who was said to be representing the other Malay Rulers.

Sources familiar with the Judiciary and the Constitution tells this writer that the CJ’s candidate – a senior Federal Court judge – who was endorsed by the Prime Minister was rejected by the Conference of Rulers.

The sources said following the audience with Sultan Azlan, the name of Federal Court judge Justice Datuk Abdul Hamid Mohamed was mentioned as the likely candidate for the post.

Abdul Hamid is remembered as one of the two Federal Court judges who, in Sept 2004, acquitted former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim of the charge of sodomising his former family driver.

The other judge was Justice Tengku Baharuddin Shah Tengku Mahmud. Dissenting was Justice Rahmah Hussain.

The sources said even if the Prime Minister relented to the Rulers’ pressure, Abdul Hamid’s appointment could not take effect until a full meeting of the Conference of Rulers was convened.

Article 122B (1) of the Federal Constitution reads: ‘The Chief Justice of the Federal Court, the President of the Court of Appeal and the Chief Judges of the High Courts and (subject to Article 122C) the other judges of the Federal Court, of the Court of Appeal and of the High Courts shall be appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister, after consulting the Conference of Rulers.’

‘This is not a matter that can be legally affected through a circular resolution,’ the sources say, adding that the name of senior lawyer Tan Sri Zaki Mohd Azmi had also been mentioned as a candidate for Federal Court judge.

They noted that the role of Raja Azlan as the intermediary between the Conference of Rulers and the Prime Minister is ‘significant’ because he was the former Lord President and a senior member of the Council.

They said the Constitution places great importance on the role of the CJ in the appointment of judges. This is intended to ensure that the independence of the judiciary is not usurped or undermined by other components of the government.

When Rulers weigh in

THERE is a danger that if this issue is not handled wisely and with a sense of urgency, the chances of it deteriorating into another constitutional crisis cannot be lightly ruled out.

Given the current political situation, any form of confrontation between the Rulers and the government could have more disturbing consequences than the last two.

The growing ‘popularity’ of the royalty, as manifested by the eagerness of the people to listen to the Regent of Perak, Raja Nazrin Shah, should be seen as a clear indication that the people want to hear a different viewpoint.

This is not necessarily bad, except for the fact that under the Constitution and by convention, the roles and duties of the royalty are clearly defined. There is a clear separation of powers between the Rulers and the Executive.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, there appears to be what I called ‘royal activism’. In part, I said:

‘Could this signal the birth of a new brand of activism among our Rulers in response to what has been perceived as the failure of the political, administrative and civil society institutions to address the contemporary concerns of the people, like the deteriorating discipline in schools, environmental degradation, abuse of power and corruption?’

Whatever the case may be, it is important that the Rulers, the Judiciary, the Executive and the Legislative remain where they are – in their respective domains.

As for the Judiciary, it is crucially important that it is not subjected to further controversy given the fact that there are so many controversial and sensational cases before it.

It may not be too much to say that a truly independent Judiciary is our last hope of building a civil society that respects the rule of law, human rights and dignity of human beings.

ARE SLUGGISH NEWSPAPER SALES TELLING US SOMETHING?

STILL on the subject of public opinion and the growing hunger for alternative points of view, the latest circulation and readership figures of mainstream newspapers are very telling.

Reflecting the moribund state of the economy despite the satisfactory Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, sales of major newspapers have either declined or grown only marginally.

After peaking in 2005, the circulation of the Malay and Chinese newspapers declined last year. The Malay newspapers fell from 1.85 million copies a day to 1.77 million and the Chinese newspapers from 1.19 million to 1.16 million.

Reflecting the higher economic position of English newspaper readers, the combined sales of English titles rose marginally from 1.3 million copies to 1.35 million.

But the biggest changes are taking place in the pro-establishment Malay Press where Umno and the government hold sway. Apart from the declining trend, this market segment is witnessing an alarming shift from the serious newspapers to the gossipy tabloids, where political coverage is limited.

Could this signal the rejection of readers of the partisan coverage of Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian? Or has the level of intellect of Malay newspaper readers plunged?

Last year, Harian Metro, a publication of The New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd (NSTP), overtook its more established sister paper Berita Harian and rival Utusan Malaysia to become the largest Malay daily. It is still growing at a double-digit pace.

But the star performer is Utusan Melayu Bhd’s Kosmo!, which is a cross between Utusan Malaysia and Harian Metro.

According to the latest media index issued by Nielsen Media Research for July 2006 to June 2007, Kosmo! led the readership growth – registering a whopping 128% increase, which translated into 228,000 additional readers, bringing the total to 406,000.

This increase was trailed far behind by Harian Metro, which rose by 20% or 325,000 readers, taking its total to 1.981 million, while Berita Harian rose 4% or 49,000, making its total 1.271 million. Utusan Malaysia declined by a further 10% or 119,000 to 1.099 million.

For the weeklies, Berita Minggu suffered the most, losing 125,000 readers or 8%. Harian Metro gained 361,000 readers or 23% and Kosmo! 151,000 readers or 128%.

In the English language segment, the biggest gainer was The Sun with 49,000 new readers representing an increase of 29%, followed by the NST with 4% and The Star, 3%.

The Star recorded 1.122 million readers, NST 330,000 and The Sun 218,000. The Malay Mail fell by a further 38% to 49,000 readers.

There’s no growth for the English Sunday papers with Sunday Star boasting 1.014 million readers, New Sunday Times 295,000 and Sunday Mail 30,000, compared to 79,000 a year ago.

This fuelled speculation that The NSTP was desperately looking for a politically acceptable buyer for The Malay Mail and Sunday Mail.

It is well-known that telecommunications tycoon T Ananda Krishnan, via his trusted aide, Ralph Marshall, had expressed interest in acquiring not just The Malay Mail and Sunday Mail, but the whole of The NSTP.

A former minister who was close to both Ananda and The NSTP said the tycoon’s interest lies not so much in the newspapers as in the company’s rich archives, which date back to 1845.

In the Chinese language segment, the situation is mixed with Nanyang and Sin Chew Daily gaining 8% and 7% more readers respectively, while Oriental Daily lost 25% and China Press 13%.

Sin Chew had 1.17 million readers, China Press 650,000, Guang Ming 400,000 and Nanyang 250,000.

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