Criticise judiciary but be fair, says Chief Justice

Judges must be prepared to withstand public scrutiny and swallow unfair and baseless allegations against them if their decisions do not tally with public opinion.

Chief Justice Tan Sri Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat said although judges adjudicate all cases that come before them, they are bound to hear cases which attract public attention and which involve political figures.

“The reality is that, no matter how impartial we are or how detached we are from politics, our decisions will be viewed from a political perspective or with a political flavour because unfortunately, public perception of the judiciary is shaped by the political landscape.”

She said this in her speech at the taking-of-oath of office and loyalty ceremony of Federal Court and Appeals Court judges, as well as judicial commissioners at the Conference Hall in the Palace of Justice on Friday.

She said it was “extremely disturbing” that the judiciary has of late been attacked only because the Public Prosecutor had exercised discretion to withdraw a case as warranted under Article 145 (3) of the Federal Constitution involving several high-profile cases.

Last month, Twentytwo13 had in a report highlighted the withdrawal of court cases involving matters of public interest in recent times which had raised eyebrows and piqued interest on the functions and workings of two legal institutions – the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the judiciary.

Notable cases which have come under public scrutiny include:

  • Acquittal of former Sabah chief minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman involving corruption and money-laundering,
  • Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz, the stepson of Datuk Seri Najib Razak, given a discharge not amounting to acquittal on five counts of money-laundering charges involving US$248mil (RM1.25bil) linked to 1Malaysia Development Bhd, and
  • Discharge and acquittal of former Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng involving the conversion of land status and purchase of a bungalow below market price in September 2018.

Tengku Maimun said the decision to withdraw a case can only be made by the prosecution and not other parties, including the courts.

“… This does not mean the courts or judges had acted dishonestly or conspired with any quarters or are involved in corruption.

“If a charge that has been brought before the court does not proceed or is withdrawn by the prosecutor, this does not mean the courts or judges did not perform our duties as accorded under the law or that the courts and judges had compromised on our integrity and the impartiality.”

Tengku Maimun said baseless accusations against the court and judges will affect the public’s trust in the institution that has been entrusted to adjudicate fairly and impartially based on the law.

“The erosion of trust and confidence of the people in the institution will be detrimental to all quarters as the courts of law are the last bastion of justice for the ordinary citizens,” she said.

She also urged the public to be more responsible in making any statements regarding judgments, especially those that touch on the integrity of judges.

“Trust us, the courts do not side with any individuals or groups and only side with the law and justice.”

Tengku Maimun said there were also certain quarters who were giving the impression that judges were involved in corruption.

“If indeed there are judges who are involved in corruption, I urge those with information to lodge reports to the Malaysian-Anti Corruption Commission so investigations can be carried out according to the law rather than making wild accusations not backed by evidence on social media, Tengku Maimun said.

She stressed the judiciary has never taken the stand that judges cannot be criticised.

“The judiciary is ready to accept constructive criticisms regarding decisions made by the court. The institution is responsible to the people and constructive criticisms can help improve the quality in the execution of justice.

“But these criticisms must be made honestly and with reasonable courtesy within the limits of the law,” she said.