KUALA LUMPUR, June 13 — An east Malaysian judge and the judge who made the landmark ruling in M. Indira Gandhi’s case are suitable candidates for the country’s two top judiciary positions, former judges have said.
Retired Court of Appeal judge Datuk Seri Mohd Hishamudin Yunus said the current Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, Tan Sri Richard Malanjum, was suited to be appointed to the Chief Justice of Malaysia post.
“Because he is a very senior judge. In fact he is senior as a judge to the current Chief Justice and it is high time that he move up to fit in the Chief Justice position.
“He is the most senior in terms of years of service as a judge. In terms of years of service as a judge, he is even more senior than Raus,” he told Malay Mail when contacted today, referring to Tun Raus Sharif whose resignation from the Chief Justice post was announced to take effect July 31.
Raus has in the past held various positions including as magistrate, before becoming a judicial commissioner on November 1, 1994 and a High Court judge on January 12, 1996.
Raus was appointed a Court of Appeal judge on July 28, 2008 and as a Federal Court judge on October 14, 2009, before becoming President of Court of Appeal on September 12, 2011 and Chief Justice on April 14, 2017.
Malanjum’s appointment to his judicial positions were earlier, including his appointments as judicial commissioner and as High Court judge in March 1992 and 1993 respectively.
He became a Court of Appeal judge in August 2002 and his June 2005 appointment as a Federal Court at the age of 52 made him the youngest judge to be appointed to that post.
Mohd Hishamudin also noted that the appointment of Malanjum — who was born in Sabah — would be good for the country, confirming that there has “never before” been an east Malaysian appointed as the Chief Justice of Malaysia.
“It is good in terms of Malaysia as a federation which comprises Sabah and Sarawak.
“He is a Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, to appoint him as a Chief Justice is a recognition to a judge coming from east Malaysia and it’s good when you talk about integration between east Malaysia and west Malaysia,” he said.
Bold, good judgments
Hishamudin also said he believed that “the appropriate person to take over the place of Tan Sri Zulkefli Makinudin as the President of the Court of Appeal should be Tan Sri Zainun Ali”.
Hishamudin noted that Zainun is a “very senior Federal Court judge”, also praising her court decisions.
“I think she has been delivering very good judgments pertaining to the Constitution of late,” he said, citing the two Federal Court judgments in the case of Semenyih Jaya Sdn Bhd v Pentadbir Tanah Daerah Hulu Langat and the case of M. Indira Gandhi where her Muslim convert ex-husband’s unilateral conversion of their children from a Hindu marriage was quashed.
“The judgments were good because she made some very bold statements regarding the Constitution, in particular, regarding the doctrine of the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, and the basic structure of the Federal Constitution,” he said of these two cases.
“She has also been making very brave dissenting judgments when the occasion warrants it, for example the case of TR Sandah. This case concerns the rights of the natives of Sarawak to their land under the Federal Constitution,” he added.
TR Sandah Ak Tabau and seven other Sarawak natives were locked in a legal battle against Sarawak’s director of forest and the Sarawak government to seek recognition of their native customary rights over land in Sarawak.
Zainun was appointed judicial commissioner and High Court judge in August 1996 and on October 1, 1998 respectively, and became Court of Appeal judge on July 28, 2007 and became Federal Court judge on April 4, 2012.
When contacted, retired Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram said both Raus and Zulkefli should quit as Chief Justice and President of Court of Appeal “immediately” instead of waiting until July 31 as announced today.
“By postponing their departure they are hurting the chances of Richard Malanjum and Zainun Ali from serving the country as CJ.
“However if the government gets 2/3 majority in Parliament as appears likely to happen, then the Constitution can be amended to increase the age of retirement to 70 in which case both Richard Malanjum and Zainun Ali will not be prejudiced.
“Notwithstanding that possibility Raus and Zul should go at once,” he said.
Currently under the Federal Constitution, judges’ retirement age is at 66, after which their services can be extended for another six months.
Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof, a retired Court of Appeal judge, similarly suggested Richard and Zainun as suitable candidates to fill the two highest-ranking positions in the judiciary.
“As for likely successors, this nation needs persons of competence and integrity who will be expected to be fair and impartial in the discharge of judicial duties who can make a positive imprint on the development of Malaysian law.
“Personally, I feel YA Tan Sri Zainun will make a good CJ. Going by seniority and merit, Tan Sri Richard should be considered as the PCA,” he told Malay Mail when contacted today.
He said Zainun is a very senior judge, adding that: “She has written very high quality judgments of an international standard. We want someone who can advance the law.”
Lawyer Ragunath Kesavan, a former Malaysian Bar president, backed the idea of Malanjum as a candidate for the Chief Justice post.
“Yes! It is time for Richard to be appointed CJ. He is most senior on the Federal Court.
“He was bypassed by Raus and Zul. He deserves it. And after all he will serve for one year at most,” he told Malay Mail when contacted today.