THE JOURNAL consists of selected, most notable and newsworthy POSTINGS OF THE DAY.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

26. Royal Commission

by Yoges Palaniappan of Malaysiakini

The Bar Council emergency meeting today called for a royal commission to look into the rot in the judiciary since 1988, and they intend to organise a rare march to the Prime Minister's Office next Wednesday to press their case.

The council meeting was hastily convened to discuss what should be done to safeguard the judiciary in the wake of an explosive video clip which showed one of their own brokering the appointment of judges.

Speaking to reporters after the two-hour meeting, Bar Council chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan said the Bar, representing 13,500 lawyers, would be submitting a memorandum to the prime minister next Wednesday calling for the royal commission.

The outraged lawyers are expected to march a short distance from the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya to the Prime Minister's office to hand in the memorandum.

They are told to don their official court attire of black jackets and white shirts during the march.

The council also resolved to call an emergency general meeting (EGM) - which will involve all its members - at 3pm on Oct 6 at the Legend Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. The main purpose of the meeting is to discuss the rot in the judiciary.

Ambiga said that the task of the royal commission would be to look into the state of the judiciary since the unceremonious sacking of the then Lord President Salleh Abas in 1988.

Many critics have claimed that the judiciary has been on a free fall since then.

“There's no doubt that all members are outraged at the emergence of this video clip," said Ambiga.

"A royal commission is also incumbent as we don't wish to see the matter (video clip) being swept under the carpet," she added.

Ambiga also said that the council would propose that the commission, if formed by the government, should comprise of former senior judges and lawyers.

Unacceptable but telling

She said that many questions raised by the video cry out for answers.

“It underscores the need for a judicial commission. If there is no truth in the allegations or inferences arising out of the video, then the parties concerned must be vindicated,” she said.

“If there is truth in the allegations (or in some of them), stern and appropriate action must follow,” she stressed.

She also described the response of the judge yesterday that he has no comment as reported by Malaysiakini was “unacceptable but telling”.

"At present there's no denial of any form from the judge and that concerns us," she said, adding that the council will not press him for his explanations on the controversy.

Ambiga added that the council also felt that disciplinary charges should be levelled against the lawyer for his role in ‘judge fixing’ as shown in the grainy video clip.

She said the lawyer would be referred to the council's advocates and solicitors disciplinary board headed by Khalid Ahmad for further actions to be taken against him.

The eight-minute clip, which was revealed by PKR’s de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim on Wednesday, showed a lawyer on the telephone with what appeared to be a judge based on the context of the conversation, talking about appointing ‘friendly’ judges.

Ambiga added that the council also disagreed with Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail's statement that there were no criminal elements involved in the video clip.

"It is only timely for an thorough investigation to be conducted. The prime minister said that an investigation will be carried out. We just want the investigation to be in the form of royal commission."

Yesterday prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi rejected calls for a royal commission, stating a police investigation, which was already underway, was sufficient.

Don’t shoot the messenger

The Bar Council was also disappointed with the official responses that sought to divert attention to the whistleblower, and threaten possible action against such person should the allegations turn out to be untrue.

“To do so at this stage casts serious doubts on the willingness of the authorities to properly and impartially investigate the matter,” Ambiga said.

“It will instead be a case of shooting the messenger.”

She said that any hint of impropriety in the judiciary must be investigated swiftly and in a thorough and transparent manner, so that the public was assured that there was no cover-up.

“The Bar Council calls upon the government to immediately appoint a royal commission of inquiry into the incident and into the state of the judiciary,” she stated.

“Let us find out what really went on (and goes on) in the judiciary. Let us not continue to be in a state of denial,” she said.

The Prime Minister will have to seriously consider the setting up of a Royal Commission based on the recommendations of the Bar Council. The Bar Council, collectively representing 13,500 lawyers, after an EGM, decided on this course of action. They are a professional body representing and fighting for the interests of lawyers and the legal profession. They know best what is good for them and how best the issue should be solved. What happened in the video, if true, seriously undermines the public confidence in the Malaysian Judiciary. This has to be put right and only a Royal Commission of eminent judges and lawyers can do it. If a Royal Commission not now, then when?