Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Let's not forget the value of the rule of law

Brave New World (The Star)
October 29, 2009

"Those who should know better are forgetting the values enshrined in our Constitution, thus the Bar Council’s education campaign."


DO you remember VK Lingam? You don’t? Let me refresh your memory.
He is a lawyer who, at least at one point, was said to have had a lot of influence on the judiciary. So much influence in fact that he was found to have been brokering judicial positions.
Normally I am coy about making blunt statements like this, due to memories (vague and sleepy as they are) of my classes on the topic of defamation, but this is not me making a bold statement. This is the finding of the Royal Commission established to investigate the authenticity of a videotape which had VK Lingam in it.
The video shows Lingam talking to a judge and promising to ensure his promotion. The Commission found that the tape was real; the person talking on the tape was VK Lingam; he was talking to Judge Ahmad Fairuz; and indeed the appointment and promotion of judges do appear to have been open to manipulation from private citizens and members of the Cabinet (in the case of that video, Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor).
Do you remember now? Correct, correct, correct, he is the man in the scandalous Lingam tape.
Well, it seems that the Commission’s proposal that these men be investigated under several laws (such as the Anti-Corruption Act) is not going to be taken to the logical conclusion of a trial, because the government has decided there is not enough evidence.
Bizarre, isn’t it?
You have a tape with serious implications about our judiciary and prima facie unsavoury activities authenticated by a Royal Commission, and they say there is not enough evidence.
Come on, just last week Tian Chua the Pakatan MP was found guilty of biting a policeman on, at least as reported in the press, little more evidence than the policeman in question basically saying “he bit me, honest he did, he bit me.”
How much evidence do you need?
Why is this a serious matter? Well, the judiciary is a crucial part of our system of government; a system of government which, according to the Constitution, practices a separation of powers.
That is to say, to ensure that despotism does not rule, the people who make the laws (Parliament), the people who enforce the laws (Cabinet) and the people who decide on any question of law (the judiciary) are kept apart to avoid any one body or person from having absolute power.
The judiciary must therefore be as independent as possible so that they can do their job without fear or favour, and so that the citizens of the country can have faith in the system.
If we do not want to live in a dictatorship, then an independent judiciary is a fundamental element of our system of governance that must be protected.
Having lawyers brokering positions in the judiciary along with Cabinet ministers in the tawdriest manner imaginable does not bode well for the independence of the judiciary or its dignity.
This matter is important to the founders of this nation, which is why you find it enshrined in the Constitution.
The Constitution is the document that lays down all the basic principles required to run our country in a particular manner. Ours has determined that our country is one which practices a secular, democratic system with separation of powers.
Without this foundation, the governance of this country will be rudderless and its citizens bereft of important protections spelt out in the Constitution.
The importance of this document cannot be emphasised enough, and in this light it is heartening that the Bar Council’s Constitutional Law Committee has decided to launch a first-of-its-kind awareness programme called the My Constitution Campaign (Kempen Perlembagaan Ku).
I really dislike campaigns. They usually smack of lip service and sometimes are embarrassing (1Toilet anyone?), but this is one campaign that I think is necessary.
It will basically be about spreading information regarding the Constitution to the Malaysian public in a style that is easily understood and digested.
This will take the form of booklets, citizen service advertisements and public forums.
The campaign begins at 3pm on Nov 13 at the Bar Council (open to all), and hopefully they will enjoy some success.
Now, I do not for one second believe that the My Constitution Campaign is going to create an entire population well versed in the Constitution.
I have no delusions that people will be talking about it with the same vigour as they do about whatever reality singing and dancing programme on the telly right now, but what I hope it will achieve is to ensure that those of us who do care about our lives and our futures; those who think that good governance and justice are important aspects of life, will at least have a better understanding of this, the supreme law of the nation, which was created with those values as its ideals.
It is an understanding that those who have decided to drop the Lingam case seem to lack.

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