‘Judges can be persuaded, there’s no pre-judgement,’ says retiring judge

Mah said it was very important for a judge to have 100 per cent freedom of thought and freedom to decide a case. — Bernama pic
Mah said it was very important for a judge to have 100 per cent freedom of thought and freedom to decide a case. — Bernama pic

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PUTRAJAYA, Jan 30 — Judges do not pre-decide court cases before hearing the matter in court, said Court of Appeal judge Datuk Mah Weng Kwai who clocked out for the last time from the judiciary today.

Speaking to reporters in an interview, he said before judges sitting on a three-member Court of Appeal panel come up to the bench, they would be sitting in a room behind the courtroom to discuss on how to manage the cases set before them to hear on that day and on the approach to be taken on them. “There would be some preliminary views, of course, if we read the records of appeal but they are not concrete views. There is no pre-judgement,” said Mah, adding that it was important for judges to be patient to listen to the lawyers submitting and not jump to conclusions.

“Judges can be persuaded, their preliminary views can be changed if lawyers were good in their advocacy and were persuasive enough when making their oral submissions in court,” said Mah who will turn 66 years old on February 4 this year and would be on his mandatory retirement date.

He said very often we hear people saying that “why should you go to the court, they have already decided”, adding that may be that of a layman’s view.

Mah said it was very important for a judge to have 100 per cent freedom of thought and freedom to decide on case; otherwise, there was no point in becoming a judge, adding that a person should not be a judge if he or she could not do the right thing.

He said he could definitely say from the “inside” that there is independence (in the judiciary), adding that he had never had anyone tell him how to decide on a court case.

“I am happy to say, very proud to say, during my five years (as a judge) I have never once had a phone call or directive or even suggestion by any of the senior judges to say “this is how you decide a case or decide it in this way and not that way,” he said.

Mah also said judges sitting on the Court of Appeal bench would prepare and read all the cases set before the panel for that day and they (the judges) do not divide the cases among them before hand.

Describing his life as a judge as very hectic with heavy loads of work and a challenging experience, he said judges in the Court of Appeal would sit 10 working days in a month on alternate weeks and each sitting day, the judges would have about 10 cases to hear.

“We usually prepare our case in advance. Each case would take at least half an hour. The reading up time takes about five hours before hand and that involves reading the grounds of judgment, memorandum of appeal, and submissions,” he explained, adding that judges would also have to write their grounds of judgement if the losing party filed an appeal.

“I always loved the job being a judge. It is very interesting, I am probably going to miss it... hard work... but I’ll miss it,” said Mah who also had been in the judicial service for 12 years before resigning to practice as a lawyer.

Mah, who was also the Bar Council president from 2001 until 2003, said he practised as a lawyer for 25 years before returning to the judiciary.

“Tun Zaki Azmi (then Chief Justice) said senior lawyers must now do something for society to help to clear backlog (of cases) and regard it as national service so I suppposed a few of us responded to that call, that is how I ended up coming back,” he said.

He said being a judge, the most rewarding feeling was to know at the end of the day that he had a role to play in ensuring that justice was dispensed.

“I studied law because I wasn’t good enough to do science or medicine. I was

in the Art streams and law was definitely an option,” Mah said, adding that it was never his ambition to be a judge but a lawyer.

Mah said he was looking forward to his retirement because he could do the things he wanted to do at his own time.

He said after retirement, he would become a consultant to his son’s legal firm as well as do some arbitration and mediation cases and also hoped to be empanelled with the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration (KLRCA) as an arbitrator.

“When I have spare time, I hope to spend more time on my farm which is in Rawang. It is call a hobby farm and not for commercial purposes. I have three fish ponds, a poultry and live stock section for chicken, ducks, geese, turkeys, rabbits and goats. They are all as pets and not for eating,” said Mah.

He said he usually went to his farm to do some gardening every weekend which was his way of having a physical workout and to de-stress from working life as a judge.

“My wife would ask me why I go to the farm so often so I say it is very simple, I talk to my goats, they don’t talk back,” Mah quipped, adding that he enjoyed himself at the farm as it was back to nature and in a peaceful environment.

Mah said after his retirement, he also intended to travel and be active in charitable organisations, adding that he would be joining the St John’s Ambulance and also a non-governmental organisation active in preserving forests.

On whether he would be coming back to appear as a counsel, an advocate and solicitor in court, Mah replied: “No.... a very firm no as I believe that it is not proper for retired judges to come back to the court to act as an advocate and solicitor and appear before his former colleagues.

“Some people would say why not.... judges are entitled to appear, right to livelihood, right to work , but I think once retired, you worked for so many years, why want to work again. I want to enjoy my retirement.”

He singled out three cases as the more important cases that he had decided on, namely the Teoh Beng Hock case, the Borders Bookshop case and Seri Setia assemblyman Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad’s sedition case.

Mah’s last words to the judiciary was for the institution to maintain its independence at all times and to ensure that justice were dispensed to everyone regardless of gender and position.

He also said the judiciary had improved and had effectively cleared backlogged cases. — Bernama

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