Lawyer backs RCI for judiciary over judge’s claim of ostracisation

Court of Appeal judge Datuk Hamid Sultan Abu Backer attends the International Malaysia Law Conference in Kuala Lumpur August 16, 2018. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Court of Appeal judge Datuk Hamid Sultan Abu Backer attends the International Malaysia Law Conference in Kuala Lumpur August 16, 2018. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 19 — The legal fraternity must push for a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) on the judiciary following a judge’s claim of being ostracised over a dissenting judgment in a high-profile interfaith custody battle, said a lawyer today.

Lawyer Arun Kasi noted Court of Appeal judge Datuk Hamid Sultan Abu Backer’s recent allegations of being reprimanded by a top judge and subsequently not being assigned to hear public interest or constitutional cases due to the judgment, saying that this was shocking.

“The revelation has shocked the public and shaken their confidence in the judiciary,” Arun said in a statement today.

On August 16, Hamid Sultan spoke at the International Malaysia Law Conference about his experience over his dissenting judgment, which had among other things said the civil courts have jurisdiction to hear court challenges involving the administrative decisions of Islamic bodies.

It also asserted that the civil court is where a dispute involving both a Muslim and non-Muslim should be heard, as well as mooting a special court with Syariah and civil court judges to hear such hybrid cases.

Hamid Sultan’s judgment differed from that of his two colleagues on the three-man panel at the Court of Appeal, who had on December 30, 2015 overturned a High Court ruling quashing Hindu mother M. Indira Gandhi’s Muslim convert ex-husband’s unilateral conversion of their three children to Islam and said Islamic matters should be decided by the Shariah courts.

Noting that the country is currently going through various legal challenges following matters linked to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), including the seizure of the yacht Equanimity, Arun said any result will be questionable if the judiciary’s independence and integrity are not beyond reproach.

Arun claimed that the interfaith custody case of Gandhi was not the only one from which a negative perception about the judiciary arose, saying that there were others that have caused this as well.

He also claimed that changes in the judiciary have been cosmetic and minimal so far.

“In view of the above, I today urged the Bar Council to call for an EGM to resolve in favour of Royal Commission, to show that the Malaysian Bar is serious about it and that it wants an independent, intelligent and integrity judiciary,” he said, when asking for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) for a resolution to push for an RCI.

The Malaysian Bar is the professional body for lawyers in peninsular Malaysia, with the Bar Council as its governing body.

Arun also said the Malaysian Bar must ask for Federal Court judges to be assigned using drawn lots, at least for cases of public interest, to ensure that there can be no attempts to stack the panels in these.

He added that non-Muslim judges must be included in court disputes over religious issues.

“In religious matters, the quorum must be a mixed one with at least one non-Muslim judge in a corum of three judges, and at least two non-Muslim judges in a corum of five judges, so that justice will not only be done but also be plainly seen to be done.

“Fortunately, we have this privilege which England may not have,” he said.

On July 12, newly-appointed Chief Justice of Malaysia Tan Sri Richard Malanjum announced various reforms, including a proposal for the empanelling or selection of judges for Federal Court panels to be done via balloting.

In a landmark ruling, the Federal Court had on January 29 voided and set aside the unilateral conversion of Indira’s three children to Islam, with one of the judges saying he was not swayed by his own religious convictions.