Bar split on how hard it should fight judges’ term extensions

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Source: The Malaysian Insight 

LAWYERS at the Malaysian Bar EGM yesterday were divided on how far they should take their objections to the term extensions of Chief Justice Raus Sharif and Court of Appeal president Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudun.

The lawyers told The Malaysian Insight a pair of resolutions proposed by Subang MP Sivarasa Rasiah in response to the extension of Raus and Zuklefli’s services on the bench was the subject of much debate.

Should the two judges accept the terms extension, Sivarasa proposed that all counsel apply to seek their recusal, and if such application fails, that all counsel decline to appear before them; and so long as they remain in office as chief justice and president of the Court of Appeal after attaining the age of 66 years and 6 months, Raus and Zulkefli will not be invited to any Malaysian Bar functions and events. Members of the Bar are also advised to decline social interaction with them.

Sivarasa confirmed such were his proposals at the EGM but declined to elaborate.At the EGM, Sivarasa also brought up the 1988 judicial crisis, noting a sense of deja vu. The then Chief Justice Salleh Abbas was sacked, in what the Bar had called an unconstitutional move by then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Sivarasa had pointed that the form might be different, but the substance was the same, adding that the lawyers had to fight hard to uphold the Constitution.

“Sivarasa also said the proposed halt on social interaction with Raus and Zulkefli is similar to what was effected against former chief justice Abdul Hamid Omar, who had chaired the panel that sacked Salleh,” a lawyer said.

Most of the Bar members, however, opposed freezing the two judges out socially.

One said: “We are not dogs. We are advocates and solicitors, not politicians.”

Some called for the Bar’s legal challenge to proceed before taking up such resolutions.

A lawyer warned against “alienating ourselves from the judiciary” while another supported the resolutions and called for the Bar to act “without fear or favour”.

Another said Sivarasa wished to “name and shame” the two.

“The move risks a confrontation between the whole judiciary and the Bar. Right now it’s about two judges. This will escalate the situation,” said a lawyer.

Several litigators with pending cases before Raus or Zulkefli said they would not be able to serve their clients should they apply for recusal.

Former Bar president Ambiga Sreenevasan also took the floor to say the Bar had been “vindicated” when former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi paid compensation to the Federal Court judges sacked in the 1988 constitutional crisis.

Ambiga called on the Bar to act “decisively” and said  “we know why the PM (Najib Razak) is doing it”.

She said the two judges could stay “forever” if the appointments were not challenged with “absolute clarity”.

Ambiga said the new resolutions should not be added after the judicial extensions were challenged in court, which could take months while “Rome is burning”.

Later, Sivarasa withdrew the resolution calling for recusal, but the second resolution calling for the halting social interaction with the judges was passed with 397 members of the Bar voting in favour of it.

Bar president George Varughese chaired the EGM. Sarawak Advocates Association president Ranbir Singh Sangha and Sabah Law Association president Brenndon Keith Soh were present to observe the proceedings.