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New CJ must demonstrate independence and impartiality

KUALA LUMPUR, 17 Oct 2008: Only “a demonstration of independence and impartiality at all times” can dispel concerns about the appointment of the new Chief Justice, said the Malaysian Bar.

In a press statement today, president of the Malaysian Bar Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said concerns about Chief Justice Tan Sri Zaki Azmi can only be dispelled by him “through the conduct of his duties”.

She also drew attention to concerns about Zaki’s political affiliations and business connections.

According to The Star on 17 Oct, during Zaki’s private practice, he served, among others, as the Abandoned Housing Project Scheme and National Sports Council adviser.

Zaki was also disciplinary (technical) committee chairman with Umno. He was the party’s selection committee secretary and a member of its disciplinary board appeal panel.

Before this, Zaki made history on 5 Sept 2007 when he was appointed directly to the Federal Court from the legal profession.

He had resigned from all his corporate directorships and memberships before this appointment, but some groups still expressed concerns about his impartiality. A petition was subsequently submitted to the Agong requesting Zaki not be elevated as Chief Justice.

However, the Conference of Rulers, which met this week, had reportedly agreed to Zaki’s appointment as head of the judiciary.

Zaki will be taking over from current Chief Justice Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamed. Abdul Hamid, who was given a six-month extension in April, retires tomorrow.

Ambiga went on to stress the Malaysian Bar’s support for judicial reform. She said the Bar hopes that the reform agenda includes the setting up of a Judicial Appointments Commission “that involves all stakeholders in the justice system”.

On 8 Oct 2008 Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that he would go ahead and push for reforms before stepping down. Among these is the tabling of a bill to set up a Judicial Appointments Commission.

The Commission is a proposal by former de facto law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim as a way of restoring the independence of the judiciary.

Related article: New Chief Justice must be independent of political alliances


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