KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Bar has called on the removal of prime minister's power to appoint members in the Judicial Appointments Commissions (JAC).
Its president, Karen Cheah, said this was necessary to establish an independent judiciary and for JAC to run its own affairs.
She said the Bar had consistently called for the decentralisation of the power of the Executive in key aspects of the judicial appointment process.
She said the Bar had submitted a comprehensive paper to the Institutional Reforms Committee (IRC) to propose ideas to strengthen the democratic institutions since four years ago.
"We have always had concerns relating to the process of the appointment of judges, which should always be free from the influence of the Executive, because the underlying purpose behind the establishment of a JAC is to maintain the separation between the Legislative, Judiciary and Executive to ensure transparency at all levels.
"The review of provisions on representation of the stakeholders should be done by legal practitioners and the Attorney-General, and that eminent persons under Section 5 of the JAC Act be selected through a set of criteria suitable for Malaysians across divides, for the good of the Judiciary and our country.
"Thus, we called for the amendments to the JAC Act and Article 122B of the Federal Constitution to establish a more independent judiciary, for the sake of a proper democratic system within our country," she said in a statement today.
She said Section 5 of the JAC Act stipulated that five out of the nine members of the JAC — namely a Federal Court Judge and four eminent persons — are appointed by the prime minister.
She said the selection of eminent persons left open the possibility that former members of the Executive and public service, members of parliament and other politicians might sit on the JAC.
Cheah said the Bar had continuously advocated that the overall composition of the JAC should reflect diversity and inclusivity, and as far as possible, mirror the demography of the general population in every aspect.
"This means an inclusion of the wide spectrum of Malaysia's rich multicultural and multireligious population, and a reflection of a good balance of the genders and professional practice areas.
"This would enhance public confidence and acceptance of the decisions made by the Judiciary because these judges would essentially be representing and making decisions affecting the lives of all Malaysians," she said.
Cheah said this in response to a proposal by the Conference of Rulers that five out of nine members of the JAC no longer be appointed by the prime minister so that its composition does not carry the interests of any party.
The Yang Dipertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan, Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir, who chaired the 260th Conference of Rulers meeting, said in terms of the judicial system, the Conference of Rulers is responsible for the appointment of judges in Malaysia, and at present, this process was seen as having weaknesses that could be improved, JAC's membership included.
He said the JAC played a key role in proposing judicial nominations, and therefore its membership was critical in ensuring that the committee continued to be looked up to and is capable of nominating judges of calibre and integrity.
The Conference of Rulers also proposed for JAC's structure to be re-evaluated through discussions between the government, existing JAC members, legal bodies as well as institutions or other relevant stakeholders.
Tuanku Muhriz expressed confidence that with improvements, JAC would be able to carry out its responsibilities more effectively and ensure that the selection and appointment of judges in Malaysia were from among individuals of noble character and who were transparent and just.