Bar: Future JAC appointments should be more inclusive and diverse

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 21 – The Malaysian Bar has questioned the appointment of three retired judges into the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), saying the composition is now tipped in favour of the Judiciary but lacks balance in terms of gender and ethnicity.

In its first statement since the names of the four new JAC members were announced, Malaysian Bar president George Varughese extended his congratulations to Dato’ Seri Mohd Hishamudin Yunus, Datuk Linton Albert, Dato’ Mah Weng Kwai, and Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi on their appointment.

“Though having the JAC tipped in favour of the judiciary is as prescribed by Section 5(1) of the JAC Act 2009, the same provision permits the composition to be balanced by the appointment of four ’eminent persons’ who are not members of the Executive or other public service.

“Future appointments of JAC members should strive for inclusivity and diversity, and move away from being dominated by serving and retired judges,” he said.

Five top judges are enough for JAC

He added that the views of the judiciary would be adequately represented by the five mandatory members of the Judiciary, four of whom are the Office Bearers of the Judiciary.

The five mandatory members are Chief Justice Tan Sri Richard Malanjum, who leads the JAC, and the President of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Judge of Malaya, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak and a sitting Federal Court judge appointed by the prime minister.

Of the four new “eminent persons” appointed, Hishamudin, Albert and Mah are all former Court of Appeal judges, while Shad is a member of academia being a constitutional law expert who is attached to the Faculty of Law at Universiti Malaya.

The four new appointees replaced former Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria, former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Anantham Kasinather, former Sarawak state attorney-general Datuk Abdul Razak Tready and Universiti Malaya Law Faculty lecturer Professor Dr Choong Yeow Choy.

Bar still has reservations on JAC Act 2009

Varughese said the Bar had previously voiced its concerns over the JAC Bill which was passed and became the JAC Act in 2009 and that with the recent appointments, “some of these reservations remain”.

“The Malaysian Bar has long advocated a JAC whose membership is representative of all the stakeholders in the administration of justice.

“Therefore, we are of the view that the four ’eminent persons’ of the JAC ought to be selected from the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Bar Council, Advocates Association of Sarawak, Sabah Law Society, academia, and civil society, and that there should be greater gender and ethnic representation,” he said.

Varughese added that there was a need to reform the appointment processes for members of both the JAC and the Judiciary, in order to restore public trust and confidence in the Judiciary.

“The JAC must be an institution that is absolutely independent.

“Subsequently, clearly defined criteria for the selection and promotion of judges, meaningful consultation with all relevant stakeholders, and accountability of those involved in the appointments processes, are also critical,” he said.

– NMT