Press Statement (2) by Karpal Singh in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, 22nd October 2008: 

Zaki as CJ - dangerous precedent for the judiciary

The consent of the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, to the appointment of Tan Sri Zaki Azmi as Chief Justice is not a step in the right direction. This follows the advice of the Prime Minister and deliberations of the Rulersí Conference. In fact, it amounts to the setting of a dangerous precedent for the judiciary. We operate on the doctrine of separation of powers pursuant to which the judiciary must be independent of the executive.

It is important to take into account public perception over the disquiet and concern over Zakiís appointment as Chief Justice. It is public knowledge that Zaki was legal advisor to UMNO, the backbone of the Barisan Nasional Government. He was also the deputy chairman of UMNOís disciplinary board at one time. It will be difficult for him to completely disassociate himself from that bond, however much he may try.

Zaki was practically catapulated to head the judiciary with his appointment as Federal Judge last year, then within a short time President of the Court of Appeal, and now Chief Justice. This has certainly been a blow to judges who have risen from the ranks right up to appointment to the Federal Court. The Federal Court, the apex court in the country, should be free from any notion of influence by the executive. It is for this reason that there should be a judicial commission created as soon as possible for the appointment and promotion of judges. Like Caesarís wife, judges must be above suspicion. The Government should also not lose sight of the confidence of foreign investors who give the highest premium to independence of the judiciary. After the judicial crisis in 1988, there was considerable loss in the independence and quality of the judiciary leading to foreign investors opting for arbitration in disputes instead of resort to the judiciary. Of late, the judiciary had gained, to some extent, its pre-1988 eminence. However, Zakiís appointment will certainly dampen any enthusiasm towards independence of the judiciary in essence and spirit. Zakiís appointment as Chief Justice however is now irreversible.It is for. Zaki, in his judicial pronouncements, to efface any doubts over his appointment to head the judiciary in the country. Zaki has to go the extra mile to convince the country that he deserves his appointment as Chief Justice. Further, Zaki has to win the confidence of his fellow judges who may have felt being marginalized, and rightly so, with him being given the mantle of Chief Justice. The eyes of international jurists will be on Zaki. The ball is now in Zakiís court. It is for Zaki now to demonstrate his judicial wisdom to erase any doubts upon his appointment and, thereby, prove his critics wrong.

* Karpal Singh, DAP National Chairman & MP for Bukit Gelugor