Wednesday, August 12

Chief Justice breathes sigh of relief

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PUTRAJAYA: Two years ago there was a backlog of 44,873 civil cases in the High Courts throughout the country.

Chief Justice of Malaysia Tun Zaki Tun Azmi who will be retiring at the age of 66 on Sept 12 is relieved that the number of cases has been drastically reduced to 5,309 as of July 1 this year, from 9,734 in 2010.

But the man brushed aside the accolades for such an achievement attributing it to the collective committment by judicial officers and court staff.

In an interview with Bernama at his office at the Palace of Justice here, he nevertheless said Malaysia could be a role model to other Common Law countries.

Obviously proud, he let it be known that the achievement would be noted in the next World Bank’s Report to be published soon.

“Since the 1990s, pending cases were in the tens of thousands which took four to 15 years to dispose of. It was not favourable for the business community and others who had to attend court.

“When I assumed the position (CJ), my first target was to reduce the backlog. We tried a few approaches, one of which was to increase the number of high court judges.”

He said the government further enhanced the courts by providing recording equipment to help expedite cases, apart from introducing procedures or processes.

Zaki recalled it was in 2009 that efforts were made to reduce the backlog, starting with counting of the files and scrutinising the cases one by one to check their status.

“We found the files were either dormant or that the parties involved were no longer interested to pursue their cases, or one of the persons had already passed away; some of the cases had in fact been settled.”

Meanwhile, Zaki disclosed that the backlog of civil cases in the Sessions Court had been reduced to 2,039 as of July 2011 from 10,947 cases in 2010 and 61,659 in 2009.

There were 71,000 backlog cases in 2009 before they were reduced to 1,100 in 2010 and 309 this year, according to him.

“The High Court registered 23,900 new cases in 2010, most of which were disposed within a year, leaving only 6,838,” he said.

Zaki said the New Commercial Court (NCC) which was implemented on Sept 1, 2009 aimed at disposing cases within nine months after filing had achieved a 90 per cent success rate.

“The NCC is faster than anywhere else in the world,” he acknowledged.

The NCC was subsequently introduced in the courts in Shah Alam, Selangor, Johor Baharu and Penang and would be expanded to other states as well, Zaki disclosed.

On Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for courts, Zaki recalled that the lawyers initially had misgivings about it, misinterpreting that judges would dispose cases quickly just to meet the KPIs.

Zaki said the lawyers now understood the intention of the courts and have been very cooperative in ensuring that cases did not remain pending.

On the people’s confidence in the country’s judicial system, Zaki admitted that gaining it was a big challenge.

On the upside, negative perceptions and complaints, for instance on the attitude of judges had somehow toned down, he noted.

“I would like to advise judges not to take too much time in writing their judgements and to make them precise.

“Of course I cannot stop the judges from writing a lengthy judgement, except, please don’t take too much time on it.”

On the criteria of a good judge, Zaki said quality was not merely based on the judgement (decision) but in all aspects.

“As a judge he must be fair, patient, but not too patient that the case stagnates; he must preside over the case appropriately and decide fairly.

“A good judge writes his judgement well and manages his cases well. Half of the judges can write beautiful judgments but are unable to complete them for months just because they wanted to present perfect judgements,” he noted. — Bernama