The comments by the Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail that “no criminal offence appears to have been committed” in the Lingam Tape and that senior lawyer V.K.Lingam “was in a monologue over his mobile phone and it was unclear who he was talking to” (New Straits Times) were most outrageous and raise important questions, viz:
- his understanding of and commitment to judicial independence, integrity and accountability; and
- his fitness to continue as Attorney-General.
How can the chief legal officer of the government try to minimize the gravity of the judicial misconduct exposed by the Lingam Tape and shirk off his responsibility by claiming that Lingam was in a monologue as “There is no clear reference that he was talking to a top judicial officer”, when Anwar Ibrahim’s allegation that Lingam was talking to Chief Justice Tun Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim sometime in 2002 when he was Chief Judge of Malaya was corroborated by the contents of the conversation?
Forty-eight hours have passed and neither Ahmad Fairuz nor Lingam had denied that there was such a telephone conversation between them, which would be the first reaction of anyone to a doctored video clip.
Ahmad Fairuz was contacted the same afternoon of Wednesday when Anwar made public the video recording, but his personal assistant relayed the message that the Chief Justice wanted to have a look at the video before saying anything. But Ahmad Fairuz had been in ex communicado in the past two days, although he would have no difficulty in accessing it on the Internet, as it was put up on Malaysiakini almost instantly the same day (recording over 4,000 hits since), as well as on many blogs and the Bar Council website. One Youtube site which uploaded the clip registered 23,150 hits in one day.
The silence of Lingam cannot be explained by the claim that he is overseas, particularly in the present era of 24/7 and instant communications when information travels at the speed of light and denials could be made instantly from any part of the globe.
It is also most noteworthy that Gani had not challenged the authenticity of the video recording of the telephone conversation.
From the contents, the conversation would probably be January 2002 for the following reasons:
- Ahmad Fairuz was referred to as “Datuk” and there was talk of getting a “Tan Sri”-ship for him the same year. Ahmad Fairuz was awarded the Panglima Setia Mahkota (P.S.M) by the Yang di Pertuan Agong during the King’s birthday in June 2002, making him a Tan Sri.
- There was reference of making “Datuk Heliliah, Datuk Ramli and Datuk Maroop” as judges — on 8th February 2002, Datuk Heliliah Mohd Yusuf, former Solicitor-General, Datuk Ramly Ali, a former Chief Registrar and Datuk Ahmad Maarop, a former Commissioner of Law Revision, received their letters of appointment as High Court judges from the Yang di Pertuan Agong. Their appointments were from Feb. 1, 2002.
- There was reference that “in three months time” Ahmad Fairuz would be made President of Court of Appeal and “six months time” he was going to be Chief Justice – Ahmad Fairuz was sworn in as President, Court of Appeal on Dec. 1, 2002 and appointed Chief Justice of Malaysia on March 17, 2003.
When Gani said that “no criminal offence appears to have been committed’ in the Lingam Tape, may be he should explain what crimes were committed by Tun Salleh Abas to be sacked as Lord President and by Datuk Seri George Seah and the late Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawanteh to be dismissed as Supreme Court judges in the dark days of Malaysian judiciary in 1988?
Five charge, running into 12 sheets of paper and nearly 1,700 words were levelled against Salleh Abas. Can Gani state what were the charges against Salleh in the shameful travesty of justice which precipitated the fall from grace of the Malaysian judiciary which could be termed “criminal”?
What is mind-boggling is that the Attorney-General, who had clearly viewed the Lingam Tape, should be so complacent as to find nothing improper or offensive in it and cannot see the grave judicial misconduct crying out for attention and which have plunged the country into the latest chapter of a long catalogue of crisis of confidence in the judiciary in the past two decades since the 1988 Judicial Onslaught.
How is it that Malaysia, which claims to want to be a first-world nation to face up to the challenges of globalization, is having an Attorney-General who seems to be oblivious of the importance of the principles of judicial independence, integrity and accountability and the various international statements and declarations on them, such as:
(1) The Beijing Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary in the LAWASIA Region 1995 which among other things declared:
- Judges shall uphold the integrity and independence of the Judiciary by avoiding impropriety in all their activities.
- To enable the Judiciary to achieve its objectives and perform its functions, it is essential that judges be chosen on the basis of proven competence, integrity and independence.
(2) The Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct 2002 which states, among other things:
- A judge shall ensure that his or her conduct is above reproach in the view of a reasonable observer.
- The behaviour and conduct of a judge must reaffirm the people’s faith in the integrity of the judiciary. Justice must not merely be done but must also be seen to be done.
If the Attorney-General assumes the stance that no criminal offence is disclosed in the Lingam Tape and that it was only a monologue of Lingam, totally disregarding the fact that it has done more than any other event in the four-year Abdullah premiership to destroy the myth that the country is making progress towards a system of justice where there is a truly independent judiciary and a just rule of law, how can Malaysians expect the Prime Minister to get proper and quality legal advice from the chief legal officer of the government on what he should do for the good of the country and future generations?
Instead of one scandal over the Lingam Tape, is the country getting a double whammy with another value-added scandal of an Attorney-General who refuses to see or lift his finger to save the country from the latest crisis of confidence in the judiciary in the country?