The Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) needs to be more open and transparent on the promotion of judges, said human rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL).
LFL’s co-founder and adviser Eric Paulsen told The Malaysian Insider that currently there is no real transparency in the appointment and promotion of judges.
“One of the easiest indicators to promote judges is to look at their seniority but this has not always been the case. There have been quite a number of junior judges promoted faster than their seniors,” he said.
Paulsen cited former Chief Justice Tun Zaki Ahmad as an example, saying he had previously been a legal adviser for Umno but was suddenly made a Federal Court judge.
“Zaki’s swift ascendancy was not transparent and definitely not based on any particular criteria. There were more senior judges than Zaki when he was promoted to the Federal Court,” said Paulsen.
“Little over a year following his appointment to the Federal Court, Zaki was appointed as the Chief Justice. He was not well known prior to his Federal Court appointment so it created a sense of unease.”
Paulsen was commenting on the speech today by retired High Court judge Datuk V.T. Singham who urged judicial administrators to be fair to judges and court officers when it came to promotions, adding that it must be just and equal without any discrimination or abuse of authority.
Singham, in a strongly worded speech to lawyers and academicians at a function in Kuantan, had also said the judiciary would only be independent if judges stopped expecting rewards and honorific titles for doing their job.
The former judge pointed out it was not the independence of the judiciary which needed to be addressed but that of individual judges.
“Judges who are entrusted with the judicial and sacred oath to perform their duties must do so without expectations, be it monetary, titles or promotions,” Singham said.
Paulsen concurred with Singham’s comments saying that the integrity of individual judges had to be addressed.
“However, there is a wider structural problem due to individuals who have calibre and integrity not being promoted to the judiciary,” Paulsen added.
Constitutional lawyer Edmund Bon also called for an independent Ministry of Justice to be set up, detached and separate from the government.
“The Justice Ministry should work together with the JAC so that the promotions and appointments of judges will be more transparent.
“There is a lot of discussion among the legal fraternity on how some judges are promoted despite their lack of seniority compared to other judges.
“The separation of powers between the judiciary, legal fraternity and Attorney-General’s Chambers should be more pronounced.
“At the moment, some magistrates and Session Court judges can be appointed as deputy public prosecutors and vice versa,” said Bon.
He also expressed hope that the issuance of honorific titles to judges would be stopped as it has lost its original purposes.
“The giving out of titles such as Tun, Tan Sri, Datuk Seri and Datuk should be stopped,” he said, agreeing with Singham’s comments that judges will only be independent when they stopped expecting titles in return for carrying out their duties.