No government interference in judge’s verdict, says Chief Justice

PUTRAJAYA, 5 Mac -- Ketua Hakim Negara Tun Arifin Zakaria ketika dalam wawancara dengan Pertubuhan Berita Nasional Malaysia (Bernama) di Istana Kehakiman baru-baru ini. Ariffin, 67, akan bersara wajib akhir bulan ini. --fotoBERNAMA (2017) HAK CIPTA TERPELIHARA

Tun Arifin Zakaria speaks to interviewers at the Palace of Justice. Bernama Photo

PUTRAJAYA: Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria says the government never interferes with the decision of the judge in any court case.

“There has never been any interference. We decide our cases independently of the government,” he said in an interview with Bernama at his office here.

He noted that the courts had made decisions against the federal and state governments, and “they have had to accept it”.

Arifin said that people involved in a case unhappy about a decision could always appeal to a higher court. “That is the process. For every decision, we (judges) must give reasons why we dismiss or allow a case.”

Arifin, who will go on mandatory retirement at the end of the month, was “sometimes quite sad” that people criticised a decision before the written judgment had come out.

The country’s top judge, who will turn 67 in October, had his term extended by another six months last year. The retirement age for judges is 66.

Arifin said people should at least read a judgement before commenting.

“We simplify our judgment. We provide a summary of the judgment which is easy for the public to understand so that they would know the reason for the court’s decision.

“I hope the public reads our judgment. After reading the judgment, you are welcome to criticise,” Arifin said.

As for the reaction of judges to criticisms, he said it was not ethical for them to openly respond to comments from the public.

“Judges are in a peculiar position. Judges cannot defend themselves through the newspaper. What they can do is through their judgment, that is all. When we make a decision, we give reasons. You can criticise but we don’t respond to the criticisms,” he said.

Arifin said the judiciary would leave it to others like the Attorney-General or the Malaysian Bar or academicians to comment as they could write anything on a judge’s decision, either to defend or otherwise.

He said a court’s decision was transparent because a judge was required to give reasons for the verdict and the public could read the judgment to see whether or not it was fair and just.

“I have always called for fair and good criticisms of our decision so that we can develop our jurisprudence,” he said.

Arifin regards integrity as the most important criteria of being a judge, adding that there was zero tolerance for judges without it.

“The most important criteria for being a good judge is you must be of the highest integrity. Then only come the other capabilities like writing a good judgment,” Arifin said.

“You may write good judgment but you may have no integrity and are, therefore, not a good judge.”

He said a judicial academy had been set up to provide legal education to judges from the subordinate and high courts, including training on writing judgments.

Arifin said judges had eight weeks to complete their judgment but there is certain flexibility given to judges of the Federal Court because they have to be particularly careful as some of the decisions involved making new laws.

He said that judges were required to come up with their grounds of judgment on the day they deliver their decision, if they had earlier reserved their verdict.

“But sometimes the time fixed from adjournment for decision to the date of judgment can be quiet long – two months, three months, five months, even longer – depending on the complexity of the case,” he said.

He said judicial commissioners would not be confirmed as full-fledged High Court judges if they fail to complete their grounds of judgment within the time frame.

Arifin said two of the most important criteria to measure the performance of judges and judicial commissioners were the quality of their judgment and the time they took to complete the judgment. – Bernama