Bar members as top judges? You have no ‘moral right’, says lawyer Haniff Khatri

Syed Jaymal Zahiid
Lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla said the call for Putrajaya to have experienced private lawyers fill up positions to be vacated by the country’s senior judges was an insult to the judiciary. ― Picture by Zuraneeza Zulkifli

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 27 — The Malaysian Bar has no “moral right” to propose its members be appointed as top judges because the majority of them had failed their obligation to uphold justice under the Barisan Nasional administration, a high-profile lawyer has alleged.

Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla, who has acted as counsel for prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, said the call for Putrajaya to have experienced private lawyers fill up positions to be vacated by the country’s senior judges was an insult to the judiciary.

“In all honesty I would like to state that the demand by George Varughese has no merits considering the expertise of Court of Appeal and High Court judges, and compared that with the shallow experience of these private lawyers the latter has little knowledge about the judiciary,” he told Malay Mail in a written statement.

He made the statement in response to Malaysian Bar president George Varughese, as he accused the body of inaction against what he saw as the corrupt leadership of then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak — accusing its members of having questionable integrity.

“The first thing to be asked is where all these private lawyers were when Najib Razak ruled supreme through a corrupt government that tended to violate the Federal Constitution,” Haniff added.

The lawyer also alleged that many of the private lawyers were board members of government-linked companies, which explained the dereliction of duty on the part of the Malaysian Bar.

“Many of the private lawyers were also made board members and advisors to GLCs, statutory bodies or even ministers,” he said, referring to government-linked companies.

“Why at that point were these private lawyers utterly silent and continue to collect legal fees from their clients for their services when they should have acted without fear or favour?”

The lawyer then claimed while the Bar may have taken legal action when the Najib administration extended the tenure of then Chief Justice Tun Md Raus Sharif or against former Attorney General Tan Sri Apandi Ali over the 1MDB scandal, the body’s response came “slowly”.

The Malaysian Bar had passed a motion in an extraordinary meeting convened in 2015 to condemn the interference with the investigation into the allegations of financial impropriety at the fund but failed to take any legal action since then, Haniff said.

“From the motion we can see that the Malaysian Bar is mandated (and obliged) to take legal action against Najib’s wrongdoings since 2015 itself.

“Yet nothing was done at that point of time,” he said.

The Malaysian Bar voted to pass a motion condemning the interference with the investigation, and the subversion of, the cause and administration of justice in the 1MDB case.

Najib was seen tempering with investigation and inquiry into the transfer of RM2.6 billion and the flow of RM42 million from 1MDB’s subsidiary SRC International Sdn Bhd and its related companies both into his personal bank accounts.

In the same motion, the Bar asserted that it had the moral duty to act against any power abuse and uphold justice, a key point Haniff raised in his retort.

Malay Mail reported last week the call by Malaysian Bar president George for lawyers to be appointed directly as Federal Court judges as 10 out of 13 judges from the apex court, including all office bearers, are due to retire by next year.

Chief Justice Tan Sri Richard Malanjum and Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Zaharah Ibrahim will hit the retirement age of 66 on October 13 and November 17 this year respectively, while Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Datuk David Wong Dak Wah and Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Ahmad Maarop will turn 66 on August 20 2019 and May 25 2019 respectively.

Judges are only allowed to extend their service by six months after hitting the mandatory retirement age.

In an interview with Malay Mail, Varughese advocated for at least half of the judiciary to comprise members of the Bar at all levels and said the subordinate courts should also be opened to practising lawyers; magistrates and Sessions Court judges all currently come from the Judicial and Legal Services.

Haniff said Varughese’s proposal also implied suspicious integrity among current line of judges even when those suspected to be tainted are the minority.

“With all the factors above, I repeat my assertion that the Bar Council have no expertise nor the moral right to demand for the appointment of private lawyers to senior posts in the courts.

“In fact the demand is akin to insulting and questioning the integrity and abilities of current Court of Appeal and High Court judges and other officers of the judiciary or senior officials of the Attorney-General’s Chambers,” he said.

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