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Friday, April 24, 2009

> Humpty Dumpty and Mohd Nazri


by NH Chan 

When a judge is plainly wrong, especially when he claims to interpret the obvious, it is not wrong for any right thinking member of the public to criticise him.

In New Sunday Times, there appears this astonishing remark (because it is erroneous in law) which was attributed to a minister in the Prime Minister's Department.

According to the report, Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz (left) has hit out at Perak DAP chief Ngeh Koo Ham for questioning a Federal Court ruling pertaining to Perak.

Nazri said Ngeh should not question the court's decision that Perak state assembly speaker V Sivakumar did not have the power to suspend Menteri Besar Zambry Abdul Kadir and six BN state executive council members from attending the state assembly sittings.

“‘There was no question of the judiciary interfering in the legislature as claimed by Ngeh as the courts were the best place to seek interpretation of the constitution or law,’ he told reporters,” said the report.

“Nazri said the law did not intend to equip a speaker of a legislative assembly with unrestricted authority.”

Everyone knows that Ngeh (right) was talking about Article 72 (1) of the Federal Constitution which states, “The validity of any proceedings in the Legislative Assembly of any State shall not be questioned in any court.”

But what the minister was saying is that "the courts were the best place to seek interpretation of the constitution".

Now I ask Malaysiakini readers, do you, as a member of the general public, need a judge to interpret Article 72 (1)?

However, when the judges were asked to interpret clause 1 of Article 72, as we have recently observed, they have blatantly refused to apply the constitutional provision as it stands. We know that the words mean what they say.

According to the dictionary, the word “interpret” means “explain the meaning of”. I don't think we need the Federal Court or any court to explain the meaning of Article 72 to us - the meaning is plain enough for ordinary Malaysians to understand.

‘It means what I choose it to mean’

No one in his right senses would attempt to interpret the obvious meaning of the words in Article 72 (1), unless he wants to say the words mean something else as Humpty Dumpty did in Lewis Carrol’s ‘Through the Looking Glass’.

"I don't know what you mean by 'glory'."Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't - till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'"

"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument’," Alice objected.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything.

Then, like Humpty Dumpty, Nazri made this amazingly naive statement: "The law - meaning Article 72 (1) - did not intend to equip a speaker of a legislative assembly with unrestricted authority."

But that was not the point of what Ngeh said. So what if the speaker was wrong on what he did or said or ordered in the legislative assembly?

The supreme law of the land says that "the validity of any proceeedings in the Legislative Assembly of any State shall not be questioned in any court".

This could only mean that all differences which occured in the legislative assembly could only be resolved by the assembly, within the assembly itself.

The validity of any proceedings in the assembly is beyond the reach of the courts - so said the Constitution of Malaysia.

The "law" does not mean, as the minister wanted it to mean, that it "did not intend to equip a speaker of a legislative assembly with unrestricted authority".

Like Alice, the general public were too much puzzled by such a naive remark.

Judges do not fear criticism

Anyway, why should a judge be afraid of criticism of his judgment if he has done nothing wrong and he is only doing his duty to administer justice according to law?

Judges do not fear criticism, nor do they resent it.

In the Privy Council case of Ambard v Attorney-General for Trinidad and Tobago, this was what
Lord Atkin said:

“The path of criticism is a public way: the wrong-headed are permitted to err therein, provided that members of the public abstain from imputing improper motives to those taking part in the administration of justice, and are genuinely exercising a right of criticism, and not acting in malice or attempting to impair the administration of justice, they are immune.

“Justice is not a cloistered virtue: she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men."

NH CHAN is a former Court of Appeal judge famous for his ‘All is not well in the House of Denmark’ comment regarding judicial corruption. He was then referring to High Court’s commercial division which was located in Wisma Denmark, Kuala Lumpur. The quote is based on Shakespeare’s ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’. He now lives in Ipoh - Malaysiakini.