Malaysian Bar wants lawyers to help appoint judges

Malaysian Bar President George Varughese speaks to Malay Mail at the Bar Council in Kuala Lumpur March 14, 2019. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Malaysian Bar President George Varughese speaks to Malay Mail at the Bar Council in Kuala Lumpur March 14, 2019. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, March 14 — Malaysia’s three legal associations should join the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) to help select superior court judges, the Malaysian Bar said today.

Outgoing Malaysian Bar president George Varughese also dismissed any criticism of the proposal just because lawyers appeared before judges, pointing out that the Malaysian Bar, Sabah Law Society, and Advocates Association of Sarawak would only form part of the JAC.

“The Bar will just be one voice, or if Sabah and Sarawak is included, it’s only three voices or three votes compared to other members there. So we cannot dictate how a particular candidate is promoted,” George told Malay Mail in a joint interview with Sin Chew Daily here today at the end of his two-year term.

“Many a time, candidates come from the Bar. So who will be the best person to know this candidate and give our views? I think it’s the Bar,” he added.

The JAC currently comprises Chief Justice Tan Sri Richard Malanjum, President of the Court of Appeal Tan Sri Ahmad Maarop, Chief Judge of the High Court in Malaya Tan Sri Zaharah Ibrahim, Chief Judge of the High Court in Sabah and Sarawak Datuk Seri David Wong Dak Wah, as well as a Federal Court judge, three former Court of Appeal judges, and a law professor.

George also said the JAC’s role should be elevated, as it can currently only make non-binding recommendations to the prime minister on the appointment of judges at the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Federal Court. The prime minister can reject those recommendations without providing a reason.

“We’re saying the prime minister can’t have veto power,” he said.

The Malaysian Bar president said the prime minister must give reasons for rejecting the names suggested by JAC. The PM should also be obligated to accept JAC’s second round of recommendations instead of continuously rejecting them until the PM’s preferred candidates come up.

George also repeated his call for more legal practitioners to be appointed into the judiciary, as superior court judges overwhelmingly come from the Judicial and Legal Services, such as legal officers like deputy public prosecutors (DPPs) and senior legal advisers, as well as judicial officers like Sessions Court judges.

“We have slightly over 19,000 members, so the pool to choose from is 19,000 plus, compared to if you just choose judges from the service, which is probably a thousand plus or a few thousand. So the pool from which you can choose talent is greater at the Bar,” he said.

George further called for the formation of a law reform commission under Parliament to suggest legal amendments or propose new legislation, instead of relying on the Attorney-General’s Chambers to do so.

“This law commission will then have the ability to also consult with other stakeholders before coming up with the proposals. That way, laws which are then tabled in Parliament are better researched. There’s more consultation before it’s tabled in Parliament,” he said.

“In this new Malaysia, as the government emphasises on rule of law, it is important that stakeholders are always consulted before things are made into law.”

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