10 August 2007

Rulers reject PM’s choice for top judge


The Conference of Rulers in a rare move has rejected the government’s choice for the position of chief judge of Malaya - the judiciary’s No 3 post, reports malaysiakini.

Singapore’s Straits Times reported today that the Conference of Rulers had last month asked Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to reconsider the government’s candidate for the position.

The position of chief judge of Malaya has been vacant for seven months since Siti Norma Yaakob - the first woman to hold the post - retired in early this year.

According to Straits Times, all eight existing judges in the Federal Court are qualified for the appointment. However, the post can be filled by a judge from either the Court of Appeal or the High Court.

“There were concerns as to why the candidate was picked over three other more senior judges,” the Straits Times quoted a source as saying. The newspaper did not name the judge recommended by Abdullah.

There has been growing concerns in the legal fraternity that relatively junior judges are being promoted over their more senior colleagues within the judiciary.

Possible impasse

Among the senior judges which have been overlooked for promotion in recent years include Court of Appeal judge Gopal Sri Ram.

Straits Times said that the refusal of the Conference of Rulers to endorse Abdullah’s candidate could set the stage for a possible impasse between the rulers and the government.

Under the Federal Constitution, the nine heredity sultans who make up the Conference of Rulers are to be consulted on certain key government appointments such as top judges.

It is rare for the Conference of Rulers to reject the prime minister’s candidate, which is made after discussing with the chief justice.

Straits Times reported that Abdullah was believed to have met the Perak’s Sultan Azlan Shah, one of the senior members of rulers conference, over this matter.

The Perak sultan was Lord President in the 80s - the highest post in the judiciary which is now called chief justice.

No comment from CJ

When approached by reporters, Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim refused to comment.

He said that all judicial appointments were a confidential matter classified under the Official Secrets Act.

The chief justice would only go as far as revealing that the No 3 post would be filled before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the post of the Court of Appeal president - the judiciary’s second highest ranking official - is also vacant following the death of Malek Ahmad two months ago.

Ahmad Fairuz himself is also due for retirement in October.

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