Judges must remain neutral even out of office, says Ambiga

by V. Anbalagan
The Malaysian Insider
4 July 2014

Biased or discriminatory views expressed by judges even after their retirement reflect negatively on the judiciary and undermine public perception of their independence, former Bar Council chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said.

“The prestige of the judiciary is determined by judges themselves, not just when they were on the bench but even when they retire,” she said in a statement, responding to former chief justice Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad’s criticism of the Bar Council’s role in the drafting of the National Unity Consultative Council’s (NUCC) three bills to replace the Sedition Act and aligning the Bar with the opposition.

On Monday, Hamid said he did not want to join the NUCC as he feared being used by certain parties, who wanted to cast aside Malay rights and the position of Islam in the country.

He said the opposition had “taken over” the NUCC, and questioned why the opposition, particularly the Bar, was allowed to determine policies and according to their agendas.

Former Bar Council chairman Lim Chee Wee and several opposition MPs sit on the NUCC.

Hamid also said his reason for associating the Bar with the opposition was in connection with a dinner organised by the Bar after the 12th general election in 2008, when he was the Chief Justice of Malaysia. Ambiga was chairman of the Bar at the time.

“The event was nothing more than a celebratory dinner for the opposition’s win,” he said.

Ambiga yesterday recalled speaking at the dinner about members of the Bar who had stood in the 2008 general election and won.

“For us, it was a source of pride that members of the Bar offer themselves to serve the nation in Parliament no matter which party they belong to.

“I recall stating that we had high expectations of them. (Tun) Hamid’s criticism is, therefore, baseless,” she added.

Ambiga said those who sat in judgment of others were themselves judged by higher standards.

“That judges are human and have personal prejudices, is appreciated. However, it is a requirement of their oaths of office that they rise above their personal prejudices when they decide cases,” she added.

“The responsibilities of a judge are, therefore, onerous, as so much more is required of them.”

Ambiga also said Hamid’s attack on the NUCC which is seeking to unite all the people of Malaysia was unfortunate.

Ambiga said those who truly believed in a united Malaysia would give the NUCC a chance but those who championed the rights of only one community would not appreciate its work.

“What is disappointing is that a respected former member of the judiciary feels that way.” – July 4, 2014.

  1. #1 by Noble House on Saturday, 5 July 2014 - 2:51 am

    With an antagonistic attitude such as this former chief justice, one may only conclude that he has no word for credence. In time of crisis the first casualty is truth.

    It is easy to take liberty for granted, when you have never had it taken from you. Well, at least, for some in this country!

  2. #2 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 5 July 2014 - 3:36 am

    Being multiracial country the constitutionally – and politically – correct position is to promote national unity. Hence NUCC is a creation of PM’s department. That’s the dejure position ie based on standards of what the constitution says and what the multiracial composition requires. However there’s another reality here where majority race/religion being in policy and practice elevated to sancrosance is the factual situation, never mind this second defacto reality conflicts and is contrary to the first dejure position given lip service. So that’s why the controversy never ends because of the irreconcilability of the first and second positions. Which is why the country is in such a mess riddled forever in inconsistencies! And the support or antipathy towards NUCC depends on which side of the fence (first or second) one sits or whose interests are perceived best served. The former CJ happens or chooses to be in support of the second defacto than the first dejure position. He has his right to freedom of speech too. Does it end with retirement from bench? Don’t think so.

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 5 July 2014 - 3:58 am

    Ambiga says that the prestige of judiciary is determined by judges themselves (based on what they say) both when they were active on bench or after they retire. That’s true. But whilst convention and Judges’ Code of Ethics dictate that active judges should not make or take controversial public position it says nothing about retired judges should zip their mouths. Will Ambiga chastise for example a retired judge like (say) Justice NH Chan from criticising the National Unity Front supported by Malay and Muslim NGOs against NUCC on grounds that not being “neutral” it will tarnish prestige of judiciary? So ultimately it depends on which side of the fence one sits in determining what is said is neutral or has merits or not and whether it maintains or lowers prestige of the Judiciary. It is not to say that a retired judge has forfeited his right to freedom of speech. I rather people speak their mind – so we know where we stand in relation to state of affairs or state of an institution than when they reserve their opinion in order just to protect in form the prestige of some institution.

  4. #4 by Bigjoe on Saturday, 5 July 2014 - 9:08 am

    WHO ARE WE KIDDING?? ABDUL HAMID, his views, his opinion now, IS IRRELEVANT.. THAT HE WAS CJ IS – it means the judicial system destruction is CONFIRMED. There is no way some one like him did not systematically corrupted and destroyed the system..

  5. #5 by cskok8 on Saturday, 5 July 2014 - 11:39 am

    He is or was an UMNO judge; that much is clear

  6. #6 by Justice Ipsofacto on Monday, 7 July 2014 - 10:05 am

    Once a judge, always a judge.

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