2145: The announcement of an ex gratia payment/financial compensation has not gone down well with some of the lawyers present. There is some discussion at the dinner tables about whether it would look as if judges could be sacked and later paid off as a crude way of saying sorry. One of the lawyers asks a family member of one of the affected judges in 1988 whether the Prime Minister’s words were sufficient and the response is an emphatic “No”. Others among the lawyers say they understand Abdullah’s predicament. If he had given an outright apology, he would have come under fire from opponents within his party.
2120: Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has stopped short of an apology in his speech titled Delivering Justice, Renewing Trust. The PM says that in recognition of what the sacked judges endured in 1988 and their sacrifice, the government will make an ex gratia payment to them or to their families. He concedes that the level of trust in the judiciary is not as strong as before and says there is a need for built-in safeguards. He adds that he has taken a leap of faith by appointing an outspoken maverick as de facto law minister. Then the big news: the setting up of a commission for judicial appointments – not immediately, but in the pipeline. The salary scheme for judges will also be reviewed to attract the best legal minds to the profession.
2101: It is the PM’s turn now.
2051: Zaid Ibrahim addresses the dinner. He quotes tongue in cheek from the 1970 movie “Love Story”: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry…” Does he know what the PM is going to say?
2039: Bar Council president Ambiga is giving her speech. She acknowledges the PM’s role in loosening the tight grip on fundamental rights, a lawyer tells me. She also proposes that the original wording of Article 121(1) of the Federal Constitution be restored. And she wants the PM to look into the plight of ISA detainees.
2035: PM Abdullah Badawi arrives.
2000: Present among the 650 guests are Wan Azizah, Lim Kit Siang, Koh Tsu Koon, Salleh Abas, Dzaiddin and other judges and family members affected by the 1988 judicial crisis. Gani Patail and Zaid Ibrahim are also in attendance.
1930: The Bar Council dinner, jointly organised with the government, at the Marriot Hotel in KL gets under way. Among the guests is Samy Vellu. Lawyers murmur among themselves, “What’s he doing here?”
1800: A Singapore Straits Times report earlier today says Abdullah Badawi is expected to announce major reforms: a Judicial Commission to appoint judges, greater independence for the judiciary, financial compensation to sacked judges, and an expression of regret. We shall see. The report, however, quotes former Court of Appeal judge V C George as saying, “‘An apology or expression of regret would be sweeping everything that happened 20 years ago under the carpet… We need an investigation into the events of 1988 and to expose the conspiracy and its conspirators.”