Covid-19 disrupts annual tradition: Malaysia’s judiciary won’t host Opening of Legal Year in 2021

Tengku Maimun was appointed as the chief justice of Malaysia in May 2019, and delivered her first Opening of the Legal Year speech on January 10, 2020 for the OLY 2020. ― Picture by Choo Choy May
Tengku Maimun was appointed as the chief justice of Malaysia in May 2019, and delivered her first Opening of the Legal Year speech on January 10, 2020 for the OLY 2020. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 1 — In yet another disruption by the Covid-19 pandemic to the life as Malaysians had known previously, the Malaysian judiciary will not be hosting its yearly Opening of the Legal Year in 2021.

Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat instead delivered a new year message to convey the efforts by the Malaysian courts to ensure the administration of justice and court proceedings could continue despite lockdown measures in 2020 to control movement and activity in Malaysia, as well as upcoming innovations to be carried out in 2021 to improve court processes.

“New Year 2021 has dawned. On behalf of the Malaysian Judiciary, I wish you a very happy, safe, healthy and fulfilling New Year.

“It has always been our tradition to host the Opening of the Legal Year every year. However, the circumstances arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic do not permit us to do so in 2021,” she said in a 20-page new year message released online yesterday on the Malaysian judiciary’s website.

Tengku Maimun was appointed as the chief justice of Malaysia in May 2019, and delivered her first Opening of the Legal Year speech on January 10, 2020 for the OLY 2020. There will not be an OLY for 2021.

In her new year message titled “Reflections on 2020 & Aspirations for 2021”, the chief justice stressed that judges in Malaysia remain committed to uphold justice according to the law without fear or favour, and to independently and impartially decide on court cases based on what the law says and what the evidence proves without leaving room for suspicion, bias or favouritism.

Also in her new year message, the chief justice highlighted the initial challenges in shifting to online court hearings, and how the difficulties in 2020 had hastened the speed in which the courts and lawyers have adopted the use of online hearings.

She also spoke of upcoming digital innovations in Malaysia’s court processes, including plans to introduce online methods for accused persons to plead guilty to traffic summons brought before the court and to make electronic payment of fines online for such traffic court cases. Currently, traffic offenders have to physically attend court for such cases.

She also listed out the measures that will be strictly enforced from next year to save everyone’s time and ensure a more efficient process in the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court.

The full speech of the chief justice for New Year’s Day can be read here on the Malaysian judiciary’s website in both Malay and English.

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