Thursday, 21 February 2008

An Ill-advised Choice

Brave New World (The Star)
13 December 2007

We need to examine and improve the appointment system of judges. This has to be done by a Royal Commission that is totally impeccable."


At the time of writing, Tottenham Hotspurs are languishing in 16th place in the English Premier League. For a team so full of talented goal scorers, this is a very sad place to be indeed.

Even in this miserable season, we have scored more goals than almost anyone. Unfortunately we also let in more goals than almost anyone.

A lot of hope was placed on Juande Ramos, the ex-coach of Sevilla, when he replaced Martin Jol a few months ago. (That was a sorry episode in Spurs history – Jol should not have been dismissed in the manner he was, but that is another story).

That hope is now teetering a little bit. Sure, we have qualified for the next round of the UEFA Cup, but our league results are ordinary at best and dismal at worst (losing 2-3 to Birmingham when we were leading, for God’s sake!).

It is always the case that when a new boss comes in, hopes are raised that there will be positive changes.

Ramos arrived at White Hart Lane with the amazing reputation of shaping Sevilla, a moderate team in the Spanish Primera Liga, into two-time UEFA Cup champions. Last year, he even got them into the Champions League.

His skill – and this made Spurs fans drool – was that he was able to maintain Sevilla’s attacking flair while at the same time shoring up their defence.

We have plenty of attacking flair – Robbie Keane is an Irish terrier, Jermaine Defoe a wonderful little poacher, and Dmitar Berbatov, when he is actually aware he is on the pitch, produces magic.

Our defence, on the other hand, especially without the injured Ledley King, kind of flaps about.

However, even with such an awesome reputation, Ramos has not produced the miracle that Spurs seem to need. One has to be patient, I suppose. After all, he has proven himself in Spain.

Unlike Zaki Azmi, the new Court of Appeal president. As a judge, he has proven himself not at all. He was appointed to the Federal Court in September and now, a scant three months later, he is heading the second highest court in the land.

It is all rather bizarre, especially in the light of recent events like the Lingam tapes and the judiciary facing a crisis of confidence. Now, for all we know, Nazri Aziz MP might be correct when he says that Zaki Azmi is a jolly good fellow, who is as straight as they come.

But I am afraid this is just not quite good enough in this day and age. Especially when one considers the intimate links that Zaki has with the ruling party.

At a time when executive interference with the judiciary is such a sore point, the person who is chosen to head the Court of Appeal, and very possibly to head the entire judiciary when the present Chief Justice retires in about a year’s time, was the legal adviser, chairman of the election committee and deputy chairman of the disciplinary board of the main party in the Cabinet.

At this stage of the Malaysian judiciary’s history, his appointment strikes me as, at the very best, a rather ill-advised choice. It is hardly the sort of choice to instil confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.

Let me make myself clear, I am in no way suggesting Zaki is less than honest. I don’t know him. But that is the point.

As a citizen, I should be given the necessary information to have some sort of inkling as to why Zaki was chosen over many far more senior judges. (As he has been a judge for only three months, this means that almost everyone on the bench is his senior.)

Just what are the qualities that make him so well suited for this important post? Of course, the selection of judges in this country is shrouded in secrecy, and it is unlikely we will ever find out.

What this appointment has shown is that the judicial system in our country desperately needs an overhaul. The Royal Commission that has been promised us should be given the authority to look at the entire system and not be limited to just the Lingam tapes issue.

In particular, we need to examine and improve the appointment system of judges.

It goes without saying that this has to be done by a Royal Commission that is totally impeccable lest the debacle that we find ourselves in just continues.

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