Hamid Revealed Racial Prejudice In High Court Judgment, Says Retired Judge

Former chief justice Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad, who has come under fire for his incendiary comments that the position of Islam is under threat in Penang, had revealed his racial and religious prejudice in a decision on a civil case which he heard as a High Court judge in the 90s, says a former federal court judge.

Retired Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram said he had sat on a Court of Appeal bench in 1996 which came across Hamid’s decision in a civil case that belied his prejudice. In that case, a bank had sued two business partners, a Malay and an Indian, who had stood guarantors for a loan. Both the defendants relied on the defence that their signatures were forged by a third party.

Sri Ram told The Malaysian Insider that Hamid, who had wrriten the judgment in Bahasa Malaysia, accepted the claim by the Malay defendant because "as a Muslim, he would not tell lies".

"He, however, did not accept the allegation of the Indian. The bank and the Indian appealed to the Court of Appeal.

"The Court of Appeal dismissed the bank's appeal, set aside Hamid's judgment and ordered a trial," said Sri Ram, who sat together with the late Tan Sri Abdul Malek Ahmad and Tan Sri Siti Normah Yaakob. He said the Court of Appeal did not provide written grounds because it was a case where summary judgment was entered.

Sri Ram, who retired in 2010, was weighing in on whether litigants could review their cases since Hamid has now openly showed his religious and racial preferences.

Hamid had said at a recent gathering of Muslim NGOs that the position of Islam as the official religion of the federation was under threat in Penang, and added that many non-Muslims wanted their own religions to be granted the same status. Sri Ram, however, said it was difficult, if not impossible, to show any specific prejudice in any case that Hamid had heard in the Federal Court.

"Also, such a challenge will not be fair to other judges who sat with Hamid when he was chief justice," he told The Malaysian Insider.

Hamid was the nation's top judge between 2007 and 2008. Sri Ram said if one were to read the reported judgments of Hamid, one may not agree with him on the law, but there was nothing in the printed word that showed any racism or religious discrimination towards parties appearing in court.

In a posting on his website, Hamid said a former Penang mufti had told him that it was hard to get allocations for Islamic activities in the state, as leaders of the other religions also asked for the same rights. Hamid said the mufti also informed him that at the opening ceremony of a building by the deputy chief minister, prayers were recited by a Christian priest, a Hindu priest and imam of the state mosque.

The former chief justice's comment earned the ire of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who called Hamid a "liar, racist and an extremist". Lim said that the state has allocated more funds to Muslims for their activities compared with the previous Barisan Nasional administration.

Meanwhile, Lawyers for Liberty executive director, Eric Paulsen, said Hamid was beginning to sound like Dr Ridhuan Tee Abdullah and other Malay-Muslim right wing groups. Paulsen said Hamid's remarks were outrageous and unbefitting of a retired judge, much less a former top judge.

"His comments are not only devoid of substance but disguised purely to scare monger and provoke inter-racial and inter-religious conflict," he told The Malaysian Insider. Paulsen said Hamid’s comments sounded more like that of Perkasa, Isma and Ridhuan, the controversial university lecturer who has constantly criticised non-Malays and non-Muslims in his views penned in local Malay dailies.

Paulsen said as a learned judge, Hamid should have based his statements on sound legal argument and reasoning. He said current chief justice Tun Arifin Zakaria should come on record to denounce Hamid’s views as such statements would bring further disrepute to the judiciary.

Lawyer Syahredzan Johan said Hamid's remarks at the very least, were mischievous and at the extreme, malicious. He said Islam occupied a special position in the country and this was guaranteed under the Federal Constitution.

"Islam's role is not manifested in reciting the prayer at public functions. It is also about a state supporting the running of shariah courts, enforcement of Islamic law among Muslims and collection of zakat (tithes)," he said. He said Hamid's complaint that prayers other than Islam were allowed at a private event did not undermine the official religion.

"There is no proof to show that the opening event of the building was a state function although a federal minister and deputy chief minister were present," he said.

Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abbdullah, who was chief justice between 2000 and 2003, declined comment when contacted. Bar Council chairman Christopher Leong could not be reached for comment.

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