Bar groups to discuss judicial term extension challenge


Source: The Malaysian Insight 

THE three organisations representing lawyers in the country may mount an unprecedented legal challenge against the term extensions of Chief Justice Raus Sharif and Court of Appeal President Zulkefli Makinudin.

Malaysian Bar President George Varughese will meet with the leadership of the Sabah Law Society and the Advocates Association of Sarawak in Miri this Saturday during a regular biannual tripartite meeting.

“We believe that if these appointments are not declined, it can lead to a constitutional crisis,” Varughese told The Malaysian Insight. On July 7, the government extended the services of Raus and Zulkefli, to three and two years respectively.

Both men were appointed as additional judges to keep them in office beyond the age limit of 66 years and six months, pursuant to Article 122(1A) of the Federal Constitution.

The Bar Council described the appointments, “unprecedented, troubling and blatantly unconstitutional”, pointing to at least five violations of the constitution.

The lawyers from East Malaysia had also condemned the extensions, and urged Raus and Zulkefli to reconsider their appointments, as serving beyond the mandatory retirement age would further erode “public perception and confidence in the judiciary”.

Varughese said leaders from The Malaysian Bar’s Saturday meeting with its counterparts from Sabah and Sarawak would be ahead of its extraordinary general meeting (EGM) next Thursday.

“The leadership of the three Bars will be present there,” he said of the Miri meet.

“The purpose of the meeting (EGM) is to discuss this particular issue, which is unconstitutional.”

Varughese said the challenge is a possibility if members are convinced it is the best course of action.

“This will be unprecedented in the Bar Council’s history.

“We have filed a legal challenge before, but it was against the appointment of other judges. Never against a sitting chief judge,” he told The Malaysian Insight”.

Asked if such a legal action would lead to a rift between judges and lawyers, Varughese replied: “I hope not because what we are doing is on a strictly professional basis.

“We believe in principles. We believe in adhering to the Federal Constitution and we are carrying out the duties mandated to us in our Legal Profession Act.

“Each side is carrying out their respective duties. There should not be any personal ill feelings between both sides,” Varughese said.

The Bar Council president added that after meeting with the Borneo lawyers this weekend, he would convene the Bar Council EGM in Kuala Lumpur next Thursday, where he expects a good turnout from among the 16,500 members.

He said the Bar wanted to avoid a similar constitutional crisis as what occurred in 1988 when the then Lord President of the Supreme Court Salleh Abbas was removed from office and five other Supreme Court (The precursor to the Federal Court)  judges were suspended.

The Bar Council had then questioned the sacking and criticised the role of former Lord President Hamid Omar. Hamid was a Supreme Court judge when he chaired a six-member tribunal which ultimately sacked Salleh.

In the same year, the Federal Constitution was amended to remove the term “judicial power” from Article 121(1) of the Federal Constitution, which weakened the judiciary.

The Bar Council called for a review of the 1988 judicial crisis after Dr Mahathir Mohamad had admitted in 2006 that he had asked Salleh to resign or face dismissal.