Viewpoint: Chief Jester’s Circus And Charade Comes To A Close (Part 2)

Zaki Azmi, the “Judiciary’s Renaissance man” has left behind a legacy of a judiciary scandalously compromised, shamelessly cowed and a slew of shocking contradictory and convoluted judgments. Below are some examples.

“Creatures of the Government”

In Dec. 2009, Abdul Aziz Bari, a constitutional law expert, declared that the judiciary has been reduced to one that “takes its cue from the government”.

But it has been the then CJ’s belief that since the 1988 judicial crisis “the confidence in the judiciary has improved a great deal” (The Nut Graph, 26.03.10)!

Zaki called those who criticized the judiciary for its lack of independence “a small group of vociferous people out there, who go on to the internet and blogs and Facebook and all that and make comments without knowing the proper background. Many are not even lawyers.”

A few months later lawyer Edmund Bon, who was then the chairman of the constitutional law committee of the Bar Council revealed that “the perception that the judiciary is executive-compliant still remains till today” (Free Malaysia Today, 17.08.10)!

According to former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram: “… the judiciary has become so ‘executive-minded’ and that “the judges have become creatures of the government” (Malaysiakini, 16.09.10).

The NST quoted Zaki on 12 May this year that feedback from lawyers showed that they were happy with the integrity of the judiciary and had not heard anything negative since 2008. He added: "I am sure many, if not all, agree that the Malaysian judiciary is now free from any criticism or accusation of bias or partiality."

Very apparently he had not listened to N H Chan who had often pointed out that the “Perak crisis has brought out a host of cases that showed that the judges gave the impression that they were one-sided. The perception of the people is that they sided with the BN government.”

Cowardice & Cold Feet in the Courts

The less-than-three-year tenure of Zaki Azmi saw the Federal Court shirking its responsibility to execute justice by declining to answer burning constitutional questions especially those related to conversion issues.

There were instances when it chose not to make a ruling but preferred to dismiss the case on technicalities instead. There is no better example of this than the Shamala Sathiyaseelan appeal. The glaring truth is that the court of last resort in this country is not the Federal Court but political expediency.

Commenting on the issue, the Bar Council said that “the Federal Court failed to be decisive and abdicated its role as the ultimate arbiter in disputes involving constitutional questions and jurisdictional conflict."

Respected lawyer Art Harun concurred: “I have lost count of the number of cases which involve inter-faith conflicts arising from conversion and re-conversion of a person from one faith to another — often from one faith to Islam and back to the original faith — where the Federal Court had chosen not to make a ruling, preferring to dismiss the case on technicalities instead.”

On 28 July 2010 Zaki shied away from explaining why the Court of Appeal has yet to set a hearing date for the controversial “Allah” court case more than a year after it was filed. (The Catholic Church, which had initially agreed to stay publishing the word after a series of attacks broke out nationwide following the ruling on 31 Dec. 2009, has grown anxious at the extraordinary delay.)

On 8 Sept. this year, a three-member panel of the Federal Court led by Zaki, in an unanimous decision, dismissed a crucial appeal by five Sarawak native customary rights landowners, a decision which will adversely affect more than 100 similar cases (Malaysiakini).

Both Zaki and another member of the panel refused to interpret the constitutional question affecting native customary right land in Sarawak with the excuse that the issue of unconstitutionality was not raised or properly canvassed before the Court.

Baru Bian, one of the lawyers for the natives pointed out that there were in fact oral and written submissions on the matter. The judges “were evading the practical problem on the ground”. Law professor Abdul Aziz Bari opined that by refusing to deal with the constitutionality issue, the Federal court has abdicated its duty.


Zaki’s cowed judiciary took its cue from the government and this resulted in the courts being riddled with self-contradictions or courts contradicting one another, at times to a ridiculous extent! Below are some examples.

On 9 Feb. the Federal Court in the case of whether PR's Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin or BNs Zambry Abd Kadir is the rightful Menteri Besar of Perak ignored (and contradicted) the established precedents set in the Stephen Kalong Ningkan case in Sarawak in 1966 and the Pairin Kitingan case in Sabah in 1985.

On 25 Feb. 2010 the Federal Court unanimously decided not to review its 29 Jan. decision barring Anwar Ibrahim from access to the documents "which would be tendered as part of the evidence for the prosecution" and "a written statement of facts favourable to the defence" which he is entitled to.

There had been 10 previous decisions since 2001, presided by four previous chief justices where the Federal Court allowed a review of its own decision. Further, a month earlier (21.01.10) the Federal Court, acting on an application by the CJ reviewed and revised its absurd and perverse decision made a decade ago. One of the judges on the panel was Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin. He was also on the panel of the 25 Feb. hearing! In other words he contradicted himself about a month later!

On 5 Aug. the election court threw out Zaid Ibrahim's petition to declare the election of P Kamalanathan as MP of Hulu Selangor on April 25 void, for Zaid failed to furnish details to back up his claims that the poll results were influenced by bribery and corruption.

In the Sodomy II case the court held that the details – police reports, list of witnesses, medical reports – of the prosecution's ongoing case against Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy, details that are as a norm furnished to the defence at the start of a trial “have not been fatal to the prosecution's case”.

In April, in a case between ousted Perak Speaker V Sivakumar and BN assemblymen in Perak, the Federal Court ruled that it was allowed to inquire into legislative proceedings. It departed from the precedent which gives respect to the doctrine of separation of powers. 

On 22 Oct 2010 (in a case brought about by Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo) the High Court ruled that legislative proceedings cannot be challenged in court. The constitution was supreme and that it cannot question proceedings of the Dewan Rakyat.

Other than introducing measures to speed up cases and ensure judgments are issued on time, Zaki has also been dogged by controversy during his time as CJ, the latest over amendments that allow him to get a full pension despite serving just a few years in the judiciary.

On the pages of history will be penned the public perception of a Umno lawyer picked by the Government from the Bar, parked in the Court of Appeal for a while, and placed at the pinnacle of the judiciary at an opportune time so that he and his cohorts could pander to their wishes and be paid a handsome price for being prized lap-dogs!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Catholic Lawyers Society Kuala Lumpur. CLS makes no representation concerning, and does not guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding, interpretation, advice, opinion, or view presented.

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