CJ: Not courts’ job to make popular decisions

Arifin said he expected this year to bring fresh challenges for the legal community. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Arifin said he expected this year to bring fresh challenges for the legal community. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 8 — Judges’ decisions are at times unpopular as they are made in accordance with the law rather than any desire to be favoured, Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria said today.

Arifin said last year was “challenging” for the legal community, noting that some of the court rulings generated controversy and were not universally accepted.

“Decisions of the courts are not always to everyone’s liking, whether they be private individuals, political groups, civil society or the government, but it is not the role of the courts to make popular decisions.

“The function of the court is to adjudicate on disputes according to the law and its spirit,” he said in his speech at the ceremonial opening of Malaysia’s legal year 2016.

Arifin said that due process and the rule of law had been observed strictly in cases of public interest.

He said all parties involved in such court cases were given full opportunity to present their arguments through their lawyers of choice, with cases heard according to procedure in open court also ensuring access to justice.

“Reasoned decisions were handed down with reasonable time. In short, there is genuine adherence to rule of law,” he said.

Expecting this year to also bring fresh challenges for the legal community, he said it was of paramount importance for the continued enforcement of the law “without fear or favour” regardless of external opinion.

“That is the cornerstone of the rule of law, which is the foundation of our society. It is the foremost insignia of good governance,” he said.

He listed down six core values in Malaysia required for the rule of law, namely adherence to the Federal Constitution, the recognition of equality of all before the law, independence of the judiciary, the predictable application of laws that are clear, access to justice, as well as moderation and proportionality in the enforcement of laws.

Later when speaking to reporters, Arifin said the public should read and dissect judgments and tell the judiciary where it had gone wrong.

“But they don’t do that, they call us names, they call us heartless, ‘judges are heartless because they have been in the Palace of Justice for too long’. That’s uncalled for. That’s not criticism, that is running down the judiciary. There is a clear distinction.

“Criticising the judiciary for its judgment is always welcome. It’s a part of our common law tradition, no one has ever been arrested for that or charged for that,” he said.

Arifin said he observed that many Malaysians do not read judgments, saying that they make emotional attacks without giving reasons and call judges “stupid” even before the written judgment is out.

They should instead emulate lawyers who make reasoned criticism of judgments in court, he said.

Earlier, Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru said the judiciary cannot escape close scrutiny of its judgments due to demands for greater transparency, but said the public’s criticism of judgments should be fair and measured and not go to the extent of denigrating judges.

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