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Thursday, April 16, 2009

> Judges elevated, history made

History has been created in judicial circles - for the first time, the Bar Council was consulted in the elevation of judges to the Federal Court and the Court of Appeal.

Today's elevation saw the most senior member in the Court of Appeal Justice Gopal Sri Ram being elevated with two others to the Federal Court. Five others were promoted to the Court of Appeal, the country’s second-highest court.

Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan expressed appreciation over having been consulted by the judiciary, especially Chief Justice (CJ) Zaki Azmi.

"We had two meetings with the CJ prior to today's appointment and we are glad that our suggestion and emphasis that the promotion based on the judges’ merit has been taken into serious consideration," he said.

"Following this, we (the Bar Council) are happy with the appointment of these judges to the Federal Court and the Court of Appeal."

Ragunath described it as a good start to judicial reform, following on from the recent passage of the Judicial Appointments Commission Act 2009 (JAC). It provides for the Bar’s views to be considered.

In addition to Gopal, the judges elevated to the apex court from the Court of Appeal are former solicitor-general Mohd Ghazali Mohd Yusoff and James Foong Cheng Yuen.

Gopal (right) is well known for delivering no-nonsense judgments as an appellate judge and also for his controversial comments in the Metramac case, although  these were removed when the matter came up on appeal at the Federal Court.

The new Court of Appeal judges are Mohd Hishamudin Mohd Yunus, Ramly Ali, Kang Hwee Gee, Jeffry Tan Kok Wha and Azhar @ Izhar Ma'ah.

Mohd Hishamudin is one of the most senior High Court judges. He delivered the landmark judgment that awarded former Internal Security Act detainee Abdul Malek Hussin RM2.5 million in damages for the detention.

Ramly and Kang specialise in hearing commercial litigation cases.

Zaki, during the elevation ceremony, said the appointments were made based on merit “to improve the respect given to the courts”.

He is confident that the judges will continue to meet the highest standard expected of the judiciary.

"Parties want to be fairly heard. Our trust is put in you to maintain public confidence," he said, noting that clients have high expectations of speedy and efficient disposal of cases.

"With the shortage of judges, even working at full speed, we have been unable to overtake the number of appeals filed."

‘Let’s work closely’

The chief justice called on the Malaysian Bar to work closely with the judiciary in expediting the disposal of cases.

He commended the Court of Appeal for having disposed of 987 cases up to April 9 this year, although this was largely due to applicants losing interest in proceeding with their appeals.

Zaki singled out Gopal, Justice Md Raus Sharif and Sulong Matjeraie for having helped to dispose of the cases.

"Of course efficiency plays an important role in speedy disposal of cases. With your appointment to the two levels of appellate courts, I hope efficiency will continue to improve and hence (lead to) speedier disposals of appeals."

In the past, lawyers had often been blamed for the huge backlogs of cases due to applications for adjournment of their cases.

Ragunath said the Bar Council will work closely with the judiciary. Over the past year, the frequency of meetings had been higher that the total over the last 10 years.

He said the Bar also wants to see Malaysia becoming a centre for arbitration but that this would require “a strong and independent judiciary and [...] support staff".

Ragunath said Zaki has been receptive to the council’s proposals to improve the judiciary by increasing the number of judges, finding better ways for judges to compile case notes with the use of computers, and increasing support staff like interpreters and clerks.

The judiciary, he added, could further look into the emerging area of Islamic finance, as there are many Islamic banks in the country - Malaysiakini.