PUTRAJAYA, April 2 — Court judges should remain independent and decide on cases without fear or favour and without any pressure from any quarters, whether internal or external, says Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat.
Tengku Maimun said the people’s trust and confidence in the judicial system to deliver impartial justice is the very foundation of the judiciary.
“You should remain independent and decide on cases without fear or favour and without any pressure from any quarters, whether internal or external and you should always act with dignity and perform your duties to the highest standards to uphold and maintain the integrity of your office, and you have to decide a matter before you impartially by giving all parties an opportunity to be heard and by treating them fairly.
“If you have personal knowledge of the disputed facts or connections to either of the parties or an interest in the outcome, you should refrain from determining that matter,” she said in her opening remarks at the Induction Programme for Judicial Commissioners (JC) on March 29, which was released to the media yesterday.
Yesterday, Tengku Maimun presented the appointment letters to nine JCs and also witnessed the elevation of five High Court judges to the Court of Appeal.
Tengku Maimun said as judges, they must also strive to ascertain the truth in all cases which come before them and in order to find out the truth, they are entitled to question the witnesses to clarify points that are unclear in their testimony.
“You must not, however, take over the examination-in-chief or cross-examination of witnesses. You must refrain from questioning in a manner and to an extent which gives the impression that you are no longer impartial. You should not engage in prolonged questioning of witnesses. If you do intervene to an excessive extent in a trial, that will eliminate or impair your ability to assess the evidence or to adjudicate upon the case independently and impartially,” she said.
The chief justice also stressed that in discharging judicial duties, judges do not have the privilege of choosing which cases they want or not to adjudicate.
“You are required to adjudicate all cases that come before you and you are therefore bound to hear cases which attract public attention or cases which involve public figures. Judging these cases particularly, is not for the faint-hearted, because for these kinds of cases, no matter your impartiality, your decision will not be received impartially nor viewed objectively. More often than not, your decision will be viewed with intense sentiments.
“While the President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of Malaya, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak and I are responsible for policy matters and ensuring that judges comply with such policies, we do not, in any circumstance, direct or dictate your decision.
“You have complete independence to decide the cases before you, according to the law and the facts. It is my hope that in arriving at every decision in every case, you would keep in mind the various aspects of integrity I mentioned earlier,” she said.
The chief justice also highlighted the Judges’ Code of Ethics 2009 where judges in Malaysia are tasked with the duties to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary, to avoid impropriety in judicial activities, to perform judicial duties fairly and efficiently, and to minimise risk of conflict arising from extra-judicial activities.
While noting that integrity is sometimes narrowly seen as only whether a judge can resist corruption in the form of money, Tengku Maimun said that having integrity actually includes not only the ability to resist corruption, but also to fully respect the core values of independence, impartiality, personal integrity, propriety, equality, competence and diligence.
“Nevertheless, you should not be unduly concerned with what others may say about your decision be it the executive, the legislative branch, people on the street or even your own peers. It is common to hear judges being labelled as a ‘conservative’ or a ‘liberal’ judge. As far as I am concerned, only one label matters, namely, an ‘impartial’ judge.
“In that regard, you should only be concerned with the law, not any other extraneous matters. In other words, nothing should deter you from rendering legally correct decisions. That, after all, is your duty, nothing more nothing less. Any implication that may arise from your decision, social or political is outside your domain. That belongs to the domain of the executive and legislative branches,” she added.
The top judge also highlighted the importance of judges writing the grounds of their judgment in court cases, as it would lead to increased care in dealing with submissions and analysis of evidence, giving rise to sounder decisions.
“Providing grounds would ensure that parties knew why they had won or lost, and from a broader perspective, the legal profession and the community might also have a legitimate interest in knowing these reasons as it enables them to ascertain the basis upon which like cases would probably be decided in the future.
“Having written grounds of court decisions would also allow the appellate court hearing appeals to understand the lower court’s decision, and will also curb arbitrariness and ensure accountability and transparency in the judicial system,” Tengku Maimun said.