Cabinet should appoint Param Cumaraswamy to head a Judicial Reform Commssion to propose far-reaching reforms to fully restore public confidence in the judiciary
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Thursday): Congratulations to Datuk Param Cumaraswamy, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, for being the first Malaysian to be conferred the 2002 International Justice in the World prize since its inception in 1997.
Cumaraswamy, 62, is the sixth person to receive the award which honours exceptional figures around the world in the field of law for “his commitment in the defence of the independence of judges and lawyers, the ultimate custodian of a just rule of law”.
Cumaraswamy has brought international kudos to Malaysia since his UN appointment – although he had been regarded with suspicion and even distrust by the Malaysian Government, basically because it was itself in the dock of international opinion for its grave transgressions against a truly independent judiciary and a just rule of law.
In the past 30 months, Malaysia is still groping and grappling with the great challenge of restoring public confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary after the ravages of over a decade-long crisis after crisis of the judiciary.
Despite his public commitment to make the restoration of confidence in the judiciary his first priority on his appointment as Chief Justice of the Federal Court in December 2000, Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah’s greatest contribution was to stop the rot but he was unable to restore confidence in the judiciary with far-reaching structural judicial reforms – particularly on the appointment of judges and judicial discipline and accountability.
The country has now a new Chief Justice, Tan Sri Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim, who said recently that he needed time to monitor the behaviour of judges before initiating action to reprimand those “misbehaving” in office.
This is a misconception of the powers and responsibilities of a Chief Justice, who should not be acting like a class monitor individually disciplining erring or misbehaving judges – when he should be putting in place a system and mechanism to uphold judicial accountability and integrity such as through a judicial council with powers to receive and investigate complaints of judicial misconduct.
As a three-term UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Cumaraswamy’s knowledge about international judicial reforms to ensure a truly independent judiciary and a just rule of law is probably second to none on earth, and he should be appointed by the Cabinet to head a Judicial Reform Commission to propose far-reaching reforms to fully restore public confidence in the judiciary.
For the past nine years, Cumaraswamy had been more appreciated outside the country than by the government, another example of a prophet who is not welcome in his own homeland. Let bygones be bygones so that the country can benefit from Cumarawamy’s special expertise to help restore public confidence in the judiciary.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman