Judiciary cannot escape close scrutiny of its conduct and judgments
13 January 2016
Lawyers for Liberty views with extreme concern Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria’s press conference at the 2016 Legal Year event on 8 January 2016 where he was reported to have said that judges can accept genuine criticism, but not name-calling or remarks running down the judiciary. He also made reference to Zaid Ibrahim’s article criticising the judiciary in the unilateral religious conversion case of M. Indira Gandhi’s children. The Chief Justice also added that no one has ever been arrested or charged for criticising the judiciary for its judgments.
While it is true no one has been cited for contempt of court for criticising the judiciary, it is however quite incredible for the Chief Justice to claim that no one has ever been arrested or charged for criticising the judiciary when numerous persons have been investigated, arrested or charged for comments relating to the judiciary.
The Chief Justice should note Zaid Ibrahim is currently under investigation for the article in question. The following persons were charged for sedition in relation to comments regarding Anwar Ibrahim’s case and verdict: N. Surendran (2 charges), Zunar (9 charges), Mohd Fakhrulrazi, R. Sivarasa, Ng Wei Aik, Lawrence Jayaraj, Hassan Karim, and S. Arutchelvan.
An independent judiciary is fundamental to democracy as it distinguishes a democratic state from a totalitarian one. In dispensing justice, the judiciary must not fear or resent public criticism including unjustified, intemperate or even crude ones. No comparable democracy around the world has as many lawyers, elected representatives, opposition politicians and activists in the dock for statements made against the judiciary, as Malaysia.
It is often said that justice is not a cloistered virtue and this is all the more true in the Internet and social media age where the empowered citizenry has a greater access than ever to news and information as it happens – and outlets to voice their views immediately.
In today’s demand for greater transparency and accountability, the judiciary cannot escape close scrutiny of its conduct and judgments, as the public has high expectations of its role as the custodian of justice and the Federal Constitution.
The judiciary must get used to this reality of being judged in the court of public opinion where controversial or high profile cases attract the most comments. This is the norm in other modern and democratic states and we do not see the judiciary in the United Kingdom, Australia or Canada expecting citizens to read judgments before commenting, as suggested by the Chief Justice.
The judiciary can only command public confidence and respect through its conduct, in and out of court, in judgments to give the appearance of impartiality, independence and integrity. Any criminal investigations or charges in defence of the judiciary, whether directly or indirectly, can only reflect negatively upon the judiciary and bring further public scrutiny and criticism.
Lawyers for Liberty
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