Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Stern test this week for Abdullah's will to reform

Stern test this week for Abdullah's will to reform
He has to overcome Cabinet resistance to setting up the Judicial Commission

Abdullah Badawi needs to show strong resolve. — Bernama pic
KUALA LUMPUR, April 16 — This could be a watershed week for judicial reform in the country if Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi bashes us through resistance within his Cabinet.
The Insider understands that he wants to set up a Judicial Commission, is keen on amending the Constitution to return judicial powers to the courts and drawing a line under the 1988 judicial crisis.
These moves will improve the selection and promotion of judges and strengthen the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive, which was blurred through a combination of constitutional amendments and the sacking of three Federal Court judges in 1988.
But first he will need to overcome some Cabinet colleagues who are uncomfortable with the idea of change and who because of their longevity in government consider any concession to the judiciary as an admission of guilt over alleged wrongdoings.
High on the agenda is the setting up of a commission or a council to advise the Prime Minister on suitable candidates for the Bench. This body will include the Chief Justice, representatives from the Bar Council, the legal service and possibly former judges.
Currently, the PM acts on the advice of the CJ but in the light of concerns of lobbying and judge-fixing, highlighted by the V.K. Lingam video scandal, there is the view that a Judicial Commission will protect the integrity in the selection and promotion of judges.
The Insider understands that a few Cabinet members prefer that a committee headed by the Chief Secretary to the Government advise the PM on judicial appointments. The bigger battle is likely to be waged over the move to re-invest judicial powers in the courts. It could result in Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad intensifying his calls for Abdullah to step down.
It was during the Mahathir era that the powers of the judiciary were curtailed. This happened after several court judgments in 1986 and 1987 went against the government, including the court decision to grant a habeas corpus application and free an ISA detainee.
In their book titled Malaysian politics under Mahathir, R.S. Milne and Diane Mauzy noted that in his frustration and anger, Dr Mahathir accused the courts of trying to usurp power. In March 1988 after Umno was declared illegal, Parliament passed the Federal (Amendment) Constitution Act 1988.
Article 121(1) and 145 were amended. This led to powers for the judiciary being conferred by Parliament, rather than the Constitution. The High Court also no longer had the power to review administrative decisions. As Milne and Mauzy noted this amendment ended the separation of powers and stripped the judiciary of its independence.
In recent days, Raja Nazrin Shah has called for the full judicial powers to be re-invested in the judiciary. The Regent of Perak also argued that there must be separation of powers if this country is to enjoy a period of judicial renaissance. Abdullah appears keen to restore full powers to the judiciary but will need the help of the Opposition to amend the Constitution.
DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang has said that Pakatan Rakyat MPs will support the Barisan Nasional government whether in amending the Constitution or to enact laws if this is in the interest of the people and nation.
He noted that has been considerable talk that the government is finally serious about judicial reforms, especially in ensuring that there is a just and satisfactory closure to the 1988 judicial crisis and the repeal of the 1988 constitutional amendment which removed the “judicial power” of the judiciary and gave a fatal blow to the doctrine of the separation of powers among the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary; and the establishment of a Judicial Appointment and Promotion Commission.
“The 82 Pakatan Rakyat MPs are prepared to co-operate with Abdullah and Barisan Nasional government to usher in judicial and other major reforms," he said.
All Abdullah has to do is show the will.
Source: The Malaysian Insider -

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