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Malaysian Opposition Asks King to Intervene in Tenure Extension for Judges

Fadzil Aziz and Ray Sherman
Kuala Lumpur
2017-08-02
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Opposition bloc chairman Mahathir Mohamad (center), and other opposition leaders show a copy of a letter presented to the Malaysian King, at the gates of the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur, Aug. 2, 2017.
Fadzil Aziz/BenarNews

Leaders of four opposition parties met with Malaysian palace officials Wednesday to petition the king to ask the nation’s top court to rule on the government’s decision to extend the tenures of two top judges.

The main opposition bloc Pakatan Harapan, led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, presented a letter of petition, saying the Malaysian king was the only person with discretionary power under Article 130 of the constitution to refer such a decision for court review. Mahathir, who is one of current Prime Minister Najib Razak’s harshest critics, said the king extended the tenures after receiving advice from Najib.

“All of us representing the four parties in Pakatan Harapan, through this letter, urge the Yang di-Pertuan Agong [the king] to exercise his discretionary powers and refer the matter to the federal court for a decision on whether the re-appointments are valid,” Mahathir told reporters outside the gates of the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur.

Article 130 reads: “the Malaysian King may refer to the Federal Court for its opinion any question as to the effect of any provision of this Constitution which has arisen or appears to him likely to arise, and the Federal Court shall pronounce in open court its opinion on any question so referred to it.”

Malaysian lawmakers and legal experts have criticized the prolonged appointments of Chief Justice Md Raus Sharif and Court of Appeal President Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, calling the changes unconstitutional and saying these undermine the independence of the judiciary.

Mahathir, chairman of the newly formed United Malaysian Indigenous Party [Bersatu], signed the letter along with People’s Justice Party [PKR] President Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, National Trust Party [Amanah] Deputy President Mujahid Yusuf Rawa, and Democratic Action Party [DAP] leader Lim Kit Siang.

Age limit on judges

Under the constitution, judgeships cannot to be extended for those who have reached the age of 66 years and 6 months, legal experts said. However, according to the government, those classified as additional judges are constitutionally exempt from this requirement.

Md Raus will reach the mandatory retirement age on Thursday and Zulkefli will reach it on Sept. 27. But both are to stay on the bench as additional judges who are not bound by the same age limit.

Their tenures were extended by three and two years, respectively, with both judges being appointed as additional judges to the Federal Court – the nation’s highest court, according to a statement issued by Najib’s office on July 7.

“The extension of Chief Justice Md Raus Sharif’s tenure comes into force within two days, and if this matter is not addressed immediately, it could very well result in a judicial crisis as all trials or decisions after Aug. 4 will become invalid,” Mahathir said.

“It will also cripple the judiciary’s administrative system, headed by the chief justice, as it will not be managed by a legitimate judge under the constitution.”

The government said the move was done in accordance with the constitution. The Malaysian king, acting on the advice of the prime minister and after consulting the Conference of Rulers who represent the 13 states in the Malaysian federation approved these moves, government officials said.

“The federal constitution does not forbid any additional judges in the federal court from holding other positions,” Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of law Azalina Othman said last month. “I am of the opinion that the experience and the expertise of the two judges are much needed by the country’s judicial system.”

The prime minister’s office could not be reached for comment.

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