Limit PM’s veto of judicial appointments: Bar president

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KUALA LUMPUR (March 14): The Prime Minister should only be allowed a limited role in vetoing the recommendations made by the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) in the appointment and elevation or promotion of judges.

Also, Malaysian Bar president George Varughese said the composition of the JAC should be expanded to include a representative each from of the Malaysian Bar, Advocates Association of Sarawak, the Sabah Law Society and civil society groups.

This, he added, is to ensure a proper variety and selection process of capable judges and also improve the public perception on the judiciary.

At present, JAC can make recommendations to the PM and he or she can reject the recommendation.

"I feel JAC should be given more bite as all it could do is make recommendations. I think it is proper for the JAC recommendations to be considered final.

"If the PM wants to veto, it should be limited to only once or not at all. This is to ensure that the PM would not have a say in the selection of judges," he added.

The Malaysian Bar president feels the Federal Constitution should be amended so that the PM would not have a say in the judiciary to ensure independence.

Presently, under Article 122B states (1) The Chief Justice, Court of Appeal president, the Chief judges (of Malaya and Sabah and Sarawak)' the other judges at the Federal Court, Court of Appeal and the High Court shall be appointed by the Yang di Pertuan Agong under the advice of the PM, after consulting the Conference of Rulers.

Varughese was giving an interview to several media representatives as he came to the end of his second term as the Malaysian Bar president.

The Bar will be holding its AGM this Saturday, where several resolutions will be passed and the new office bearers will be selected.

Varughese also had the distinction of being the only Bar president seeing the change in Federal Government after 61 years of independence.

During his tenure, the Bar had boycotted last year's legal year in protest of then CJ Tun Md Raus Sharif and president of the COA Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin appointments beyond the Constitutional mandatory retirement age of 66 years and six months.

But this was mended when the new CJ Tan Sri Richard Malanjum and the new Attorney General Tommy Thomas were appointed.

Varughese said the Bar had not had meetings with Thomas’ predecessor Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali and Md Raus despite requesting to do so.

Despite the change in Government, he vouched that the Malaysian Bar will continue to highlight and fight on legal issues and human rights interests with the Government.

He said while the previous BN Government wanted to see amendments to the Legal Profession Act 1976 to include representatives of the Government to be in the Bar Council, the present Pakatan Harapan Government had shelved the idea and in turn called on the Bar as a professional body to come out with its own proposed amendments which it had submitted to the Government in January.

On the formation of the Royal Commission of Inquiry of the judiciary following revelations by Court of Appeal judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer over the alleged misconduct of several judges, Varughese said he believes the RCI needs to restore public confidence on the judiciary which has been affected by the expose.

"The Bar was among the first to call for an RCI following Hamid's revelations at last year's International Law Conference.

"The judiciary has never really recovered after the 1988 matter and this is followed by the allegations on lawyer Datuk VK Lingam.

"I think and believe the formation of the RCI and subsequent proposal are good opportunities to reform and improve the image of the judiciary to the pre-1988 days," he added.

"If proper reforms are put in place, over time public perception on the judiciary will improve."