KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 12 — The office of the Chief Justice had sought to restrict contents of the Malaysian Bar president’s speech at the opening of the Legal Year 2018 ceremony, the Bar revealed today.
In a statement, Bar president George Varughese said that the format of the ceremony was then changed to remove the customary speeches by both the President of the Bar and the Attorney General after he said he did not want his speech to be censored.
“On this occasion, however, the unprecedented attempt to interfere in the President’s speech was nothing less than an assault on the independence of the Malaysian Bar. This is wholly unacceptable.
“As a result, the Bar Council — as the governing body of the Malaysian Bar — had, as a matter of principle, no alternative but to respectfully decline the invitation to attend the Opening of the Legal Year 2018 ceremony. At no time was the invitation to the President of the Bar withdrawn,” Varughese explained.
He said that the office of the Chief Justice had indicated to him to refrain from speaking about the appointments of the Chief Justice and the President of the Court of Appeal as additional Judges.
“The unconstitutional and unprecedented manner in which the appointments were made is of such great significance and consequence that deliberately omitting to address it in a speech that would provide an overview of a whole range of issues relating to the rule of law, was not an option.
“ Although the Bar’s legal challenge in respect of the unconstitutional appointments is pending in the court, it does not preclude the President of the Bar from speaking about the appointments without getting into the merits of the case,” Varughese said.
He pointed out that the president of the Malaysian Bar has always been one of three persons to deliver a speech at the Opening of the Legal Year ceremonial proceedings since it began in 2010.
Chief Justice Tun Md Raus Sharif today took to the stage to deliver the only speech at the 2018 Opening of the Legal Year (OLY) in Putrajaya.
Other stakeholders such as the Malaysian Bar were barred from delivering speeches as part of a new format called the Judicial Year.
Malaysiakini quoted Raus as saying that the decision was made because the Malaysian Bar had been insistent on bringing up the issue of his appointment as Chief Justice (CJ) as well as the appointment of the Court of Appeal president Justice Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin — both of whose tenure had been extended beyond the constitutional retirement age of 66 years and six months.
The change of format also means the Attorney-General was not allowed to deliver his speech.
It was reported that the Malaysian Bar had resorted to holding its own OLY at a private club, ahead of the scheduled programme by the judiciary.
.Raus and Zulkefli are currently the CJ and President of the Court of Appeal, with the two other most high-ranking judges in Malaysia being Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Ahmad Maarop and Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Richard Malanjum.
The Malaysian Bar’s members last year agreed to file a lawsuit to challenge the extension of the CJ and President of Court of Appeal’s terms, and to also snub both top judges at social functions and dinners.
These were part of eight resolutions voted in by a majority of 993 lawyers who attended the Malaysian Bar’s extraordinary general meeting (EGM).