CJ: Judges may be labelled 'conservative', 'liberal' over high-profile decisions in Malaysia, but being 'impartial' is the only label that matters

Chief Justice Tan Sri Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat speaks to the media at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya January 3, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Chief Justice Tan Sri Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat speaks to the media at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya January 3, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, Apr 1 — Judges should not waver from delivering decisions that are legally correct in high-profile court cases even if faced with the prospects of being labelled as a “conservative” or “liberal” judge, Chief Justice of Malaysia Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat has said.

Tengku Maimun, who is the country’s top judge, instead said that judges should focus on delivering impartial decisions.

Speaking to newly-appointed judicial commissioners in a March 29 induction programme at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya, Tengku Maimun said judges do not have the privilege of choosing which cases they want to hear and decide on, but would have to decide on all court cases that come before them.

In such a situation, Tengku Maimun said judges are bound to hear cases which attract public attention and which involve public figures, and that their decisions would likely often be met with strong reactions.  

“Judging these cases particularly, is not for the faint-hearted, because for these kinds of cases, no matter your impartiality, your decision will not be received impartially nor viewed objectively. More often than not, your decision will be viewed with intense sentiments,” she said.

The chief justice however said that judges should continue to uphold the rule of law despite what others such as those in government may say about their court decisions.

“Nevertheless, you should not be unduly concerned with what others may say about your decision be it the executive, the legislative branch, people on the street or even your own peers. You must remain steadfast in upholding the rule of law.

“It is common to hear judges being labelled as a ‘conservative’ or a ‘liberal’ judge. As far as I am concerned, only one label matters namely, an ‘impartial’ judge. In that regard, you should only be concerned with the law, not any other extraneous matters.

“In other words, nothing should deter you from rendering legally correct decisions. THAT, after all, is your duty — nothing more nothing less,” she said.

As for any social or political implications that may arise from their court decisions, Tengku Maimun said that such matters fall outside the judge’s domain and belong to the domain of the executive and legislative branches of government.

In the same speech, Tengku Maimun also noted that Malaysia is undergoing challenging times which would require the courts to uphold the rule of law.

“The times we are living in are indeed challenging. The provisions of our Federal Constitution are being stretched and tested to the limits and it is in times like this that the Judiciary must remain impartial and ever ready to deliver justice according to the rule of law. I have no doubt that you will all rise to the occasion,” she said.

In the same speech, Tengku Maimun had also stressed on the importance for judges to be independent and decide cases without fear or favour and without any pressure from anyone, as well as the importance for judges to be impartial and to have integrity.

This afternoon, the judiciary broadcasted live the swearing-in ceremony at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya for nine judicial commissioners, and for five High Court judges that were being elevated to be Court of Appeal judges.

Judicial commissioners perform the same duties and functions as High Court judges, and typically hold the post for a two-year probation period before confirmation as High Court judges.

The five High Court judges who were sworn in as Court of Appeal judges today are Datuk Ghazali Cha, Datuk Ahmad Zaidi Ibrahim, Datuk Seri Mariana Yahya, Datuk See Mee Chun, and Datuk Hashim Hamzah.

Up until yesterday, Ghazali was serving as a judge in the High Court in Alor Setar, Kedah and See was serving as a judge in the High Court in Johor Baru, Johor, while Ahmad Zaidi and Mariana were serving as judges in the High Court in Kuala Lumpur and Hashim was serving as a judge in the High Court in Ipoh, Perak.

The nine who were sworn in today as judicial commissioners at the High Court are Amelati Parnell, Norliza Othman, Hasbullah Adam, Datuk Seri Shamsulbahri Ibrahim, Roslan Mat Noor, Julia Ibrahim, Datuk Mohd Arief Emran Arifin, John Lee Kien [email protected] Johan Lee (who was a law lecturer and managing partner of law firm J. Lee & Associates), and Adlin Abdul Majid.

Up until yesterday, Amelati was the registrar of the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak, Norliza was a registrar at the Court of Appeal, Hasbullah was a Sessions Court judge in Kuala Lumpur, Shamsulbahri was a director of the Attorney General’s Chambers’ Kuala Lumpur branch, while Roslan was director of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s legal and prosecution division.

Up until yesterday, Julia was Pahang state legal advisor, Mohd Arief Emran was a partner of law firm Wong & Partners, while Adlin was a partner in law firm Lee Hishammuddin, Allen & Gledhill.

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