Best way to honour former Court of Appeal judge N.H. Chan is to fully restore the rule of law and a truly independent judiciary

This morning, accompanied by the DAP Perak Chairman Nga Kor Ming (MP for Taiping/Assemblyman for Kepayang) and DAP Perak Secretary, Wong Kah Woh (Perak State Assemblyman for Canning), I paid my last respects to a towering Malaysian and a great judge, former Court of Appeal judge, Datuk N.H. Chan.

Yesterday, I had made reference to Chan’s death when I said in my media statement:

“Yesterday, the country lost a great judge with the passing of former Court of Appeal judge, Datuk N. H. Chan, 81, in Ipoh. He will be remembered for his courageous judgement in the Ayer Molek case, with the Shakespearean quote that “Something is rotten in the State of Denmark” as the judiciary was housed in a building called ‘Wisma Denmark’.

“It was an era of ‘judge shopping’ as alleged in the infamous Ayer Molek case. Lawyers, especially those involved in commercial cases, were found to have filed their cases in a manner which allowed them to manipulate their way to appear before their preferred judges.”

“N.H. Chan was a towering Malaysian.”

I suggested that as an appreciation of his contributions to nation-building, the Cabinet should decide on the retrospective bestowal by the Yang di Pertuan Agong of the honour of “Tan Sri” on former Justice N.H. Chan.

When I paid my respects to Chan in Ipoh, I was struck by the modest two-storey house at Sunrise Garden near the state stadium in Ipoh which he had bought more than 30 years ago – highlighting his simplicity, integrity and high-mindedness , which is quite a rare quality for high officials in present-day Malaysia.

The best way to honour former Court of Appeal judge N.H. Chan is to fully restore the rule of law and a truly independent judiciary.

The passing of a great judge like Chan, who was clearly denied the opportunity to be appointed to the highest court of the land because of his independence and integrity, should be an occasion for Malaysians, particularly lawyers and jurists in the country, to revisit the important question why the standards of independence, integrity and professionalism of the judiciary had fallen far below those of the early decades of nationhood.

Many international reports had been published in the past to restore the rule of law and a truly independent judiciary in Malaysia, and their recommendations have include the following:

*the Government of Malaysia should not threaten or diminish the autonomy of the Bar Council;

*the Judiciary should act and be seen to act with complete  independence from the Executive and should do all in its power to counter the harshness of repressive legislation and overbearing  actions of the Government;

*the choice of judges in high profile cases be carefully considered;

*the Executive should refrain from speaking publicly about a trial before judgement has been delivered;

*Malaysia should become a party to United Nations human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and  Cultural Rights;

*certain restrictive legislation, including the Sedition Act, should be repealed and an independent  Law Commission be established to review existing legislation and recommend amendments that are consistent with international human  rights law;

*Non-government organisations should be able to carry out non-violent activities freely without harassment and should be able  to exercise their right to freedom of expression

The time is ripe for a review to be carried out on the state of the rule of law and judiciary in Malaysia on the threshold of the country’s 60th Merdeka celebrations.

The Bar Council could spearhead such a review, which should involve not only the civil society but the government as well.

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