Robust legal framework, economic efficiency

If the budget is to succeed in bringing about a significant shift of our economy to the next gear, our economic policies and reform must also be accompanied by significant reforms in our judicial system to ensure that foreign investors will have the necessary confidence in not just justice meted out but also the speed and efficiency at which disputes can be resolved.

Our judiciary system today leaves much to be desired. There are thousands of cases in backlog, and often it takes more than five years before commercial disputes are even brought to court for trial at the High Courts. Such inefficiency certainly benefits and incentivises the culprits and penalising the victims.

What certainly wrecks the confidence in our legal system is when a 19-year old, Lee Kwong Yong was jailed for 6 months while awaiting justice for being unable to produce his identity card when caught by the police. The injustice would have been worse had it not been for a good Samaritan who chanced upon his case.

The DAP recommends that the Government do more to attract more experienced legal practitioners as well as industry specialists into the judicial profession to resolve the twin problems facing the Courts, a shortage of judges as well as a lack of professionals to manage the mounting backlog of cases.

There is a substantial disparity in income between the legal practitioners and judicial officers, making the latter profession unattractive to many. In addition, the disparity creates a natural misallocation of resources as the top-quality legally-trained graduates will certainly prefer a career in the private sector instead of serving under the judicial system.

Therefore, it is proposed that the remuneration of judicial officers be reviewed to match their peers in the private sector. In addition, experienced professionals who are recruited into the judicial service should be remunerated at the same or near their last drawn wages. Whilst this may involve substantial cost for the Government, its returns via a more professional, enlightened and efficient legal system will be immeasurable from both an economic and social perspective.

To assist in resolving the delays in producing judgments for cases which have been concluded, judges who are currently highly dependent on the assistant registrars to assist them, should be provided with legally-trained research assistants. High Court judges should be provided with one research assistant while judges in the Court of Appeal and Federal Courts provided with two research assistants each.

These proposed changes will only be most effective if they are matched with improved performances from the respective judges. To monitor the performance of judges and judicial commissioners, an Independent Judicial Commission should be established.

Recognising the importance of such an commission independent of the executive branch of the Government, the British government has enacted legislation setting up a Judicial Commission with plenary powers to appoint Judges in the higher judiciary in England.

This commission will most certainly remove the mystery that surrounds the current appointment and promotion system. In particular there should be clear guidelines and greater transparency, which eliminates the potential for abuse when such powers rested on the shoulders of a single person, particularly when vested interests may be involved.

Although there is a legal aid bureau under the Prime Minister’s Office, there is a severe lack of lawyers to assist with the numerous cases which arise on a daily basis. To prevent cases such as Lee Kwong Yong from recurring in our legal system, the Government should set aside an initial juvenile legal aid fund of RM10 million to ensure that young Malaysians can secure legal representation. Lawyers who volunteer in juvenile cases should be reimbursed for their time and expenses. Such a move will help clear the backlog of juvenile cases in the legal system and prevent injustices recurring in the future.

(Speech 14 on 2008 Budget in Parliament on Monday, September 10, 2007)

  1. #1 by undergrad2 on Friday, 14 September 2007 - 10:12 am

    We have all the laws and the judicial system to make it work. What we lack is the poltical will to see that the laws we have are enforced. That has been the complaint from foreign investors over the years.

    Changing the rules arbitrarily mid-stream is another aspect which has worked unfairly against them.

  2. #2 by greatstuff on Friday, 14 September 2007 - 11:36 am

    Our Judicial standards are reflected by the outcome of numerous high profile, ensational cases, over the past few years, not least of which is the latest one-the “Altuntuya Murder” trial, which appears to speaks volumes for what is lacking and needs to be radically changed. In addition to Malaysians, the eyes and ears of the international community are surely following this case and will be able to draw their own conclusions after the verdict.
    What do you think is going to happen?

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Friday, 14 September 2007 - 5:08 pm

    “….//….substantial disparity in income between the legal practitioners and judicial officers, making the latter profession unattractive to many…//….?

    Don’t think it is just an issue of money. I am sure there are senior lawyers out there who have made enough money in their heydays and whose interest now in becoming a judge – is not to make money that they already have – but to afforded the opportunity to write judgments and leave the wisdom of their judicial pronouncements and glory of their names in the annals of law journals and legal literature. It just that the government does not want such calibre people with life’s experience and practice experience. You have to ask the government why that is so.

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