The Judiciary

The role of the judiciary as an independent institution of governance has become highly questionable since the Mahathir government's assault at the end of the 1980s.

The Judiciary was again immersed in controversy in December 1995 and January 1996 when a High Court judge distributed two "surat layang" (poison pen letters) containing details of some 112 allegations of abuse of power, corruption and misconduct against 12 judges.

The Attorney General contended that his investigations showed no basis for the allegations but chose not to disclose the details. The judge involved resigned on his own accord in 1996.

The Bar Council called upon the A-G to review complaints from the standpoint of "not only on criminal wrong but whether they disclosed grounds of judicial misconduct rendering a judge unfit for judicial office." (Aliran Monthly, 1996, 16:5).

The other controversy relating to the Ayer Molek case involved the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Federal Court (which has replaced the Supreme Court) in a confrontation that at the same time resurrected the issue of corruption in the judiciary.

In the case in question, the Court of Appeal strongly criticised the acts of the High Court and spoke of a court of law being responsible for an injustice. It concluded its judgement with the famous line from Hamlet, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark", alluding to the High Court premises, which are located in a building called Denmark House. The Federal Court subsequently ordered parts of the Court of Appeal judgement to be expunged.

eusoff Meanwhile the Bar Council questioned the constitutionality of the sitting of the Federal Court, which had allegedly breached requirements as to composition. The Chief Justice, Eusoffe Chin, had in this case convened a quorum including himself, a Court of Appeal judge and a High Court judge to reverse the High Court's decision on the case. The Bar Council argued that the presence of the High Court judge was ultra vires the Malaysian constitution (Suaram, 1999:38).

"Firstly, was the court's refusal to grant observer status to representatives of human rights organisations, including the Malaysian Bar Council, Amnesty International Secretariat and Human Rights Watch. This was contrary to previous practice of the courts where recognition was granted to Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists during the trial of Lim Guan Eng. During the trial, Judge Augustine Paul found a member of the defense team, Zainur Zakaria, in contempt of court for filing an alleged "slanderous" pleading and sentenced him to three months imprisonment to be served immediately. However, the Court of Appeal granted a stay of order. The pleading included the statutory declaration by a lawyer of the related case of S. Nallakarupan and lawyer Manjeet Singh Dhillon, who declared that the prosecution had offered to reduce the charges of Nallakarupan if he would testify against Anwar Ibrahim. Judge Paul also issued a warrant of arrest for Manjeet Singh Dhillon which was later withdrawn after the latter apologised for allowing the statutory declaration to be used." (Suaram,1999:38).
The most glaring developments on the court scene in recent times involved the high-profile trials concerning abuse of power (corruption) and sodomy of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. To cite SUARAM:
"Firstly, was the court's refusal to grant observer status to representatives of human rights organisations, including the Malaysian Bar Council, Amnesty International Secretariat and Human Rights Watch. This was contrary to previous practice of the courts where recognition was granted to Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists during the trial of Lim Guan Eng. During the trial, Judge Augustine Paul found a member of the defense team, Zainur Zakaria, in contempt of court for filing an alleged "slanderous" pleading and sentenced him to three months imprisonment to be served immediately. However, the Court of Appeal granted a stay of order. The pleading included the statutory declaration by a lawyer of the related case of S. Nallakarupan and lawyer Manjeet Singh Dhillon, who declared that the prosecution had offered to reduce the charges of Nallakarupan if he would testify against Anwar Ibrahim. Judge Paul also issued a warrant of arrest for Manjeet Singh Dhillon which was later withdrawn after the latter apologised for allowing the statutory declaration to be used." (Suaram,1999:38).