The government must ensure there is an independent judiciary to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) chairman Razali Ismail said.
“This is by implementing adequate strategies and measures to maintain the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, and to ensure the moral integrity and accountability of the members of the judiciary,” he said in his key note address at the International Malaysia Law Conference here today.
The former diplomat said the rule of law needs an independent judiciary to provide proper checks and balances on the effectiveness of the government in protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Razali recalled that prior to 1988, the Malaysian judiciary was considered as one of the most independent internationally.
He said the judiciary went through a turbulent time during the crisis which resulted in the sacking of the then Lord President of the Supreme Court, and five other judges met the same fate.
“That was a black mark on the history of our judiciary and no attempt should ever be made again to emasculate the independent power base of the judiciary,” he said.
Razali noted that in recent years, the judiciary had been progressive in some of its judgments and cited the 2009 case of Lee Kwan Who v Public Prosecutor where the Federal Court held that human rights must be viewed “prismatically”.
“There are other rights that may be derived from it. For instance, the right to life under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution also encompasses the right to live with dignity,” he added.
Judge Gopal Sri Ram, who wrote the celebrated judgment, had said the bench should not view provisions in the Constitution at face value but also look into the implied principles.
Razali said the police should be the face of human rights, and not a face to intimidate, even as it needed to be the bulwark of the country’s security.
He said the commission was concerned with the devastating effects of powers not exercised over deaths in police custody.
The commission had conducted a thematic study last year on such incidents and 242 deaths had occurred from 2000 to February 2014.
“In most cases, the cause of death was attributed to “natural causes” or diseases. As per Rule 10 of the Lock-up Rules 1953, a detainee should be examined by a medical doctor as soon as possible upon his detention,” he said.
He said this was to determine the suitability of the detainees to be held either in a lock-up or elsewhere for further medical treatment.
However, based on the commission’s record and observation, the rule was not observed. Hence, it is not surprising that the number of deaths in police custody is high,” he said.