Chief Justice: Court verdicts don’t always side the government

Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria delivers his opening speech for the  International Malaysian Law Conference in Kuala Lumpur, September 24, 2014. — Picture by  Choo Choy May
Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria delivers his opening speech for the International Malaysian Law Conference in Kuala Lumpur, September 24, 2014. — Picture by Choo Choy May

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 24 — It is not true that court decisions always favour the government, Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria said today, pointing to several judicial review cases as proof.

The country’s top judge noted that in a recent case against the Peaceful Assembly Act, the Court of Appeal had ruled that Section 9(5) of the highly-criticised law was inconsistent with the public’s right to freedom of assembly as enshrined under the Federal Constitution.

“It’s far from true to say the decisions of our courts have always found favour with the government of the day,” Arifin said in a speech at the International Malaysia Law Conference here today.

“This is clear. You can examine the decisions of the courts in a number of judicial review cases,” he added.

Last April, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of PKR’s Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad.

In its ruling, the appellate court said the charge against the Seri Setia assemblyman under Section 9(5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act—which imposes a maximum RM10,000 fine for not submitting a 10-day notice to the police for public gatherings—violated the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.

Arifin also said today that the courts continued to have powers of judicial review, despite the amendment to Article 121 of the Federal Constitution that delineates the separation of jurisdiction between the civil courts and Shariah courts.

“Without commenting on the accuracy or otherwise of the decision, it is clear that the courts continue to retain their powers of judicial review of primary legislation, which in itself makes it clear that no powers have been abrogated or eroded by the amendment in Article 121(1A),” said the top judge, referring to the appellate court ruling in Nik Nazmi’s case.

Arifin also said that peace, harmony and stability are “paramount” in maintaining the values encapsulated in the Rukunegara, the country’s five fundamental principles.

“In upholding these values, there is often a fundamental tension between protecting the interests of the community at large over the constitutional protection of individual rights,” he said.

“In maintaining these values and the philosophy, which are all important in a multi-racial country, certainly peace and harmony and the stability of the nation stand paramount. Matters running counter to these objectives are restrained,” he added.

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