Without much fanfare, new Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria has made a few positive statements – but will they lead to a cleaner and more independent judiciary?
A week after Anwar’s acquittal put the judiciary in the spotlight, Arifin, who took over as CJ in September
2012 2011, called for the independence of the judiciary and said that judges must be truly independent from all interferences, including from their friends and other judges. “Appellate court judges and Federal Court judges cannot influence the decision of a magistrate. Nobody at all, even the Chief Justice cannot talk to the magistrate,” he was reported as saying.
The Bar Council has applauded this reminder to judges to uphold the independence of the Judiciary and reject interference of any kind.
Arifin, 61, also announced that judges of higher courts would now have to declare their assets. The MACC would be called in to investigate allegations. This looks like an indirect way of weeding out any corrupt judges.
The new CJ also wants a minimum five-judge quorum to hear all Federal Court criminal and civil appeals. Senior lawyer C V Prabhakaran, a member of Anwar’s team of lawyers, sounded upbeat about this move. “Arifin is a very able judge and this move will reduce the possibility of judges being influenced by others,” said Prabha.
Yet another progressive statement came from the new top judge: he wants to gives more prominence to environmental cases and considers environmental crime a threat to the Earth. Judges, he says, have to do more to protect Nature, especially forested areas.
The Pasir Mas-born Arifin highlighted disparities in two cases: a man was fined only RM7000 by the magistrate’s court in Tumpat, Kelantan in 2005 for illegal possession of a dead tiger. He paid the fine and walked free. But a five-year jail sentence was meted out in another case for the theft of 11 cans of Tiger beer and Guinness Stout.
The Chief Justice’s statement comes not a moment too soon: theSun reported today that a magistrate’s court in George Town yesterday sentenced a trader to two years jail for breaking into Patchee Bakery along Dato Keramat Road and stealing a computer monitor worth only RM200.
Ultimately, sweet words alone are not enough. The new CJ’s biggest test will be to translate into results his talk of weeding out corruption and restoring the independence of the judiciary that was shattered in 1988. That, in the eyes of the public, is the KPI that matters the most.