KOTA KINABALU, July 25 — Lawyers in Sabah and Sarawak have followed their peninsula counterparts in raising constitutional questions on the appointment of the country’s two top judges and urged the judges in question to reconsider accepting the posts.
Sabah Law Society (SLS) president Brenndon Keith Soh and the Advocates Association of Sarawak (AAS) president Ranbir Singh Sangla suggested that extending the tenure of both Tan Sri Md Raus Sharif as Chief Justice and Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin as Court of Appeal president was unconstitutional and presented a negative image of the country’s judiciary.
They said they did not doubt the characters and capabilities of the two nor the constitutional powers of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
“However, it is clear that the timing and mode of the appointments and or the extensions certainly gives rise to the various issues raised above in this statement and specifically on the public perception and confidence in the judiciary,” Soh and Ranbir said in a joint statement today.
They urged the two top judges to reconsider remaining in office when their controversial appointments might affect public confidence in the judiciary.
They pointed to Article 122(1A) of the Federal Constitution, which concern the powers of the Federal Court, as cause for their concern.
They asked if the appointments of the duo had considered, among others, whether such appointments can be made when there are sufficient judges of the Federal Court.
They also pointed out that the appointments were not made via the Judicial Appointments Commission established under the Judicial Appointments Commission Act 2009.
“Furthermore, there are unanswered questions as to why other competent Federal Court Judges have not been considered suitable to be appointed as chief justice or president of the court of appeal,” Soh and Ranbir said.
They said that the public confidence in the judiciary must be given the highest importance, citing from the United Kingdom’s Select Committee on the Constitution: “It is important not only that the judiciary act independently, but that they are seen to do so. This principle also extends to the appointments process”.
Md Raus was scheduled to retire on August 3 and Zulkefli on September 27 this year upon reaching 66 years of age, but the Prime Minister’s Office had earlier this month announced an extension of his tenure.
Md Raus would remain Chief Justice for three more years following his appointment as an additional judge of the Federal Court while Zulkefli, who was appointed as an additional judge of the Federal Court, would remain Court of Appeal president for two more years.
The Malaysian Bar had described Raus and Zulkefli’s extensions as "blatantly unconstitutional" while former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the extension had “all the earmarks of favouritism”.