When Malaysia’s judges attract criticism they react swiftly – Contempt of Court, Sedition and a swathe of other laws protecting ‘harmony’ are on hand to swat not just someone criticising the outcome of their own case, but raising concerns generally.
Such protections for any institution beg one thing, abuse. Like the infallible priest or titled personage it is only too easy for such unquestioned beings to conclude the rules they enforce against everybody else do not apply to them.
Temptation in the absence of any effective deterrent is temptation indeed.
Therefore, there is little reason but to suspect that the rot has set into parts of Malaysia’s judiciary as with the rest of society, thanks to a corrupt system of government funded for decades by a full-blown theft of public funds by the political party in charge.
Thanks to East Malaysian oil there was enough to go round to reward everyone in the ring with fat ‘contracts’ and overpaid positions at the expense of roads, hospitals and education for the wider public (least of all East Malaysia).
Justice Hamid Sultan Abu Backer, a senior Appeal Court judge with a long and distinguished career in the judiciary of Malaysia duly came forward after the fall of the BN government to raise his concern that he has seen many instances of such corruption being enabled by the courts themselves, requesting these should be aired and addressed – the perpetrators exposed.
For example, he claimed, money stolen from fake contracts was habitually laundered through bogus compensation cases. According to a sworn affidavit he made in 2019 asking the newly elected PH government to hold a public enquiry, he said judges were turning a blind eye:
The govt will enter a contract with a political nominee with no intention of honouring it. Subsequently, the govt will terminate the contract and the nominee will sue the govt for breach of contract. The govt may record a consent judgement accepting liability and agreeing to assess damages. This modus operandi was going on directly to deprive the exchequer by false claims,” – Hamid Sultan Abu Backer
Judges could see what was going on, says Hamid, but they were not intervening. Whether that was from deference or some other reason, most would agree the public have a right to know (it was public money) and the judges concerned deserve exposure at the very least. A crime of theft was being perpetrated on the public purse.
There is one thing corruption cannot afford and that is scrutiny. So, it is surely telling that far from embracing the senior judge’s proposal for a Royal Commission to look into this and other alleged practices he was concerned about, the judicial establishment clamped down on Hamid.
Having first welcomed the concept of an RCI, leaders in then then PH government started to get cold feet in the face of the lash back (accompanied by much off the record briefing against an upstanding judge).
Once PN had grabbed the reins proceedings began in earnest. Not to check out concerns that judges were turning a blind eye to bogus contract compensation scams, but to sort out Hamid.
So, who has suffered consequences so far? Corrupt members of the judiciary having been exposed for their wrongdoings? Of course not!
Far from agreeing to an inquiry (always a good idea from time to time) those right honourable judges have accused Hamid of undermining public confidence in the judiciary and embarked on a series of actions against him, culminating in his recent suspension from office until the date of his retirement.
What has actually undermined public confidence in the judiciary, of course, was not Hamid’s challenge to hold the inquiry but the sight of the Malaysian legal establishment running like cockroaches from disinfectant at the prospect of being forced to answer to probing questions about their conduct.
So, it is Justice Hamid, an internationally respected figure, who has being threatened, suspended, sacked and treated like a pariah back in his own country. He who is accused by his peers of bringing the judiciary into disrepute.
A generation from now however, it will be Justice Hamid who will be remembered for bravely upholding decency and seeking to shine a light on possible malpractices. It will be those who hounded him out who will be remembered for dragging the judiciary down, unable to face questions or stand scrutiny.