Too political for Parliament to select judges, says ex-Bar president

Leong called for an independent JAC, established under the Constitution, to make direct recommendations to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for judicial appointments or promotions. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Leong called for an independent JAC, established under the Constitution, to make direct recommendations to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for judicial appointments or promotions. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 12 — Former Malaysian Bar president Christopher Leong urged the government today to review its decision to have Parliament recommend the appointment of judges.

Leong said the judiciary did not only check and balance the executive and government powers, but also the legislature by interpreting laws and checking the constitutional of legislation enacted by Parliament.

“Given this, it is not appropriate for either the Executive, acting through the Prime Minister or otherwise, or Parliament to be involved in the selection, appointment and promotion of judges,” Leong told Malay Mail.

“The selection and appointment of judges must be free from politics and political influence, whether from the Executive or Parliament.”

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Wednesday that a parliamentary select committee would screen the list of candidates for judges before their names are presented to the King.

Currently, the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) recommends the appointment of judges of the superior court for the prime minister’s consideration.

The JAC is chaired by the Chief Justice and comprises the president of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Judge of the High Court in Malaya, the Chief Judge of the High Court, as well as five other members — mostly former judges — appointed by the prime minister.

Leong highlighted the controversial appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, who was sworn in Saturday when the Senate voted 50-48 to endorse the conservative-leaning judge accused of sexual assault.

The Senate had generally voted along party lines, after contentious confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee that saw a professor, Christine Blasey Ford, accuse Kavanaugh of assaulting her when they were teenagers three decades ago.

“We do not want this for Malaysia; and our judiciary and its judges must not and do not deserve to be subjected to such a political process,” Leong said.

“If we adopt such a system, I would not be surprised if judicial candidates who are eminently qualified and suitable would for the wrong reasons nevertheless not be appointed, and conversely, less qualified or suitable candidates may be appointed.”

Leong also pointed out that in the US, it was the US president who nominated candidates for appointment to the Supreme Court and the Senate that vetted and confirmed the nomination as a check and balance. In the US presidential system, the president and the Senate may not necessarily come from the same parties.

“For the New Malaysia, it is not contemplated that it would be the Prime Minister of Malaysia who would nominate candidates for appointment to our superior courts (noting that Tun Mahathir is reported to have propositioned that the Prime Minister would no longer be involved in the appointments of judges), hence it is not appropriate for our legislature to vet and recommend any such appointments,” said the senior lawyer.

He called for an independent JAC, established under the Constitution, to make direct recommendations to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for judicial appointments or promotions.

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