KOTA KINABALU, Aug 29 — Three Malaysian lawyers’ bodies have criticised politicians’ demands for the prime minister to interfere in the country’s justice system, calling this “appalling” and unconstitutional.
The Malaysian Bar, the Sabah Law Society and the Advocates’ Association of Sarawak jointly such demands for interference in Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s criminal conviction and for the attorney general to be replaced were against Malaysia’s constitutional democracy and its institutions.
“It is deeply disturbing that such calls to interfere in the judicial process, or to replace the current attorney general, are made in blatant disregard of the principle of separation of powers and the entrenched constitutional democracy of Malaysia.
“Malaysia is a country that values the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches, as this provides checks and balances against one another,” they said in a statement today.
In the joint statement, Malaysian Bar president Karen Cheah Yee Lynn, Sabah Law Society president Roger Chin, and Sarawak's Advocates Association president Antonio Sims said that political interference in any case — especially one of tremendous public interest — would encroach on the functions and duties of the attorney general and the court.
“The unconstitutionality of such alleged behaviour will result in a grievous erosion of justice and will cast aspersions on the integrity of the attorney general and the judiciary.
“Such a petition by these politicians harks back to the dark days of the 1988 judicial crisis which pitted the executive against the judiciary, which seemed to eviscerate the image of the judiciary as an independent pillar of governance,” they said.
“We trust that the prime minister will do the right thing and not to act to the contrary, as that would be an unconscionable abuse of power and a travesty to justice.”
The groups reminded the politicians that the primary duty of the attorney general is to uphold the integrity of the justice system within his powers under the Federal Constitution, and the primary duty of the judiciary is to interpret and give effect to the law.
They said that the core of the judiciary was judges’ independence to exercise their powers without any intrusion from individuals, entities, or political parties.
“It is the judiciary that bears the responsibility of resolving disputes fairly in accordance with prevailing laws, not heeding to the requests of politicians or anyone else. The sheer audacity for politicians to seek the sitting prime minister’s interference in this case, if true, is unacceptable and preposterous.
“As a nation, Malaysia had witnessed an upheaval that culminated in the suspension and removal of the then-chief justice Tun Salleh Abas and other judges, marking the beginning of a negative change in public perception towards the judiciary.
“The Malaysian Bar, the Sabah Law Society and the Advocates’ Association of Sarawak condemn any act of politicians seeking for an intervention by the prime minister in an ongoing matter before the judiciary at all material points,” they said.
The lawyers also condemned the act of lawyers, whether or not involved in the case, who made negative remarks undermining the decision made by the Federal Court.
They said any decision made ought to be treated with utmost respect and especially when such remarks are legally unsound and has the effect of fomenting distrust in the judiciary by the rakyat “who may not know any better.”
“Such behaviour is flagrant contempt and disrespect to the rule of law and the doctrine of separation of powers,” they said, adding that in the past, politicians have been admonished and even charged as they were considered abuse of power and a misfeasance of public duties.
“Politicians should not be making scurrilous remarks which only serve to perpetuate misgivings and suspicion amongst the rakyat towards our judiciary.
“The time has come for politicians to understand their roles in perpetuating and strengthening the rule of law including the doctrine of separation of powers instead of turning Malaysia into a legal pariah where rule of law is not sacrosanct whenever they utter unjustifiable statements.
“We must never forget that it is the courts that we turn to for justice as it is the last bastion of hope and final line of legal recourse available. The courts are beholden to no one but the law, and it is the duties of the judges to dispense justice in a manner that is in accordance with the law, and not to individuals or political parties. It would be a dark day indeed when the lines between our governing institutions are blurred,” they said.