Fixing of Judicial Appointments?

On Wednesday, a video was released which seems to reveal senior lawyer VK Lingam on a phone conversation sometime in 2002, and he seemed to be on the phone with the current Chief Justice of Malaysia (the head of the judiciary) Tun Ahmad Fairuz fixing the appointment of ‘friendly’ judges.

Some brief background facts, as summarised by malaysiakini. The then Chief Justice, Tun Dzaiddin, was to retire in 2003, and the video showed Lingam expressing concerns that the outgoing CJ was moving his ‘men’ into top judiciary posts. The conversation revolved around the urgent need to get Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim, then Chief Judge of Malaya – the judiciary’s No 3 position – appointed as President of the Court of Appeal (the No 2 position) and then Chief Justice.

Ahmad Fairuz was appointed President of the Court of Appeal president in December 2002 – months after the telephone conversation. Dzaiddin stepped down as CJ in 2003 and he was replaced by Ahmad Fairuz.

Some extracts from the transcript of the conversation read:

“Ah. Okay. Actually I told Tengku Adnan to inform PM – PM to call you for a meeting. I organise it so that Tengku Adnan will call you directly. And then I got your number, I will tell him to call you directly for you to meet PM lah. So should be okay, then ar.. correct, correct, it is very important that the key players must be there.”

“Correct, correct, correct, correct, correct. You know that the same problem that Tun Eusoff Chin has [the previous Chief Justice before Tun Dzaiddin]. He couldn’t do it because many are from the other camp. Last time was unfortunate because Tun Daim was doing everything, sabotaging.”

“Ha, ha, ha. Ah, yes. Correct, correct, correct, correct, correct, correct. Right, right, right, correct. Ah, right, susah. You see, he has now up for six Court of Appeal judges, so that he can put his men before he retires.”

“He quarreled with me. I said never mind, never mind, you talk to PM again tomorrow morning to put Datuk Ahmad Fairuz to CJM. So next day morning, he went and he called me back 9.30 that he said PM has already agreed.”

Right after the release of such an explosive video, I noticed a disappointingly muted coverage by the mainstream papers on this news. (you can see jeffooi’s analysis of the coverage, or lack of it, by the mainstream media). To date, the Chief Justice has chosen to not make any comment or to come out and deny the video, and SK Lingam is right now out of the country and not available for comment.

The Attorney-General has now come out to state that no criminal offence appears to have been committed, and that he is getting further opinion on this.

Our Deputy Prime Minister has taken the position that the government will first have to verify the authenticity of the clip before deciding on the next course of action.

Our Prime Minister has come out to say that he is disappointed. But alarmingly, he is disappointed as the video was released with the aim of getting the public angry with the country’s judiciary. He is quoted as saying:

“This issue is important as it has caused a lot of damage to the country’s judiciary system. If the evidence show what transpired in the video was not the truth, action should be taken against those who released the video, as well as all those who lodged ACA reports.

“I am disappointed. The video was released with the aim of getting the people angry with the country’s judiciary system,”

Today, the Bar Council has risen up and unanimously decided to submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister and the Malaysian Cabinet next Wednesday, September 26 for the setting up of a royal commission to investigate this video clip. There will be a march at 11am from the Palace of Justice at Putrajaya to the Prime Minister’s office to hand over the memorandum.

Undoubtedly, there are some of us who will queston the authenticity of the video clip, especially with the timing of the release of this 5-year-old clip at a time when elections might be called. However, the stony silence on the part of the Chief Justice speaks volumes. Very strangely, the Chief Justice has apparently contacted the de facto law minister, Datuk Seri Nazri, to now deny that he was the one speaking to Lingam. One would expect a person wrongly accused of something so serious to immediately come out and issue a statement and set the record straight.

At the same time, the Bar Council is merely asking for further investigation to be carried out by way of a transparent and public Royal Commission inquiry. The public at large must be reassured that the truth of the whole matter will be revealed.

If this is a publicity stunt to damage the judiciary and embarrass the government, then we should quickly move to dispel the lies.

However, if the serious allegations are true, and if corruption really runs that deep within the judiciary, then the wrongdoers must all be brought to the fore. Something so serious cannot be swept under the Malaysian carpet.

edit:The President of the Malaysian Bar has now issued a strong press statement calling on the government to no longer be in a state of denial.

“These and many other 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. If there is truth in the allegations (or in some of them), stern and appropriate action must follow. Either way, silence, dismissal, lukewarm responses or lack of action are not options for the Government. The response of the Chief Justice on Friday (21 September 2007) that he has no comment in response to the video clip is unacceptable but telling.

It is most disappointing to hear of official responses that seek 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. It will instead be a case of shooting the messenger.

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.”

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