KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 20 ― The sacking of then Lord President Tun Salleh Abas during the 1988 judicial crisis was a national tragedy that continues to haunt the judiciary till this very day, retired Court of Appeal judge Justice Datuk Mohd has said.
“Yes, by now, after some 27 years since that dark episode, the judiciary has probably recovered, but still to a very limited extent.
“The negative public perception against the judiciary is still there,” Hishamudin said in an interview with The Star which was published today.
He said Salleh and the five Supreme Court judges were innocent of the charges.
In 1988, Salleh was brought before a tribunal for misconduct, and the five Supreme Court judges who granted him an interim order against the tribunal were either sacked or suspended.
“Indeed, as the late Tun Suffian (a former Lord President) had said many years ago in his speech in honour of the late Tan Sri Wan Sulaiman (one of the two Supreme Court judges that was unjustly dismissed in the assault of 1988) on March 10, 2000, ‘I had predicted that our judiciary would take a whole generation to recover from the assault. Now more than 12 years have lapsed. I doubt if the judiciary would recover in a generation from today’,” Hishamudin added.
Hishamudin stressed that a judge is required by his oath of office to dispense justice in accordance with the law and the constitution, and without fear or favour.
“Judgeship is a public trust,” he said.
Malaysia’s judiciary has remained under a cloud since the 1988 constitutional crisis that saw the dismissal of Salleh during the administration of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Dr Mahathir denied responsibility for Salleh's sacking, and blamed the late Sultan Iskandar Ismail for using him to vent his annoyance with Salleh who had complained about the noise coming from renovation works at the Johor ruler’s house.
Sultan Iskandar’s son, Tunku Abdul Majid Idris Sultan Iskandar, however said that Dr Mahathir had “used” his father to remove Salleh.
Salleh’s removal is widely viewed as the point at which Malaysia’s judiciary began to lose its independence.
In 2008, de facto law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim prompted the administration to tender an open apology to Salleh and the judges affected by the so-called judicial crisis.
“We should seek forgiveness. In the eyes of the world, the judicial crisis has weakened our judiciary system,” Zaid reportedly said then.
Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, when announcing ex-gratia payments in 2008 to Salleh and the six Supreme Court judges who lost their seats on the bench, had conceded that the judiciary crisis was one that continues to haunt the nation.
The position of Lord President no longer exists, superseded by the rank of Chief Justice, while Malaysia also replaced the Supreme Court with the Federal Court in 1994.