Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria says the government never interferes with the decision of the judge in any court case.
“There has never been any interference. We decide our cases independently of the government,” he said in an interview with Bernama at his office here.
He noted that the courts had made decisions against the federal and state governments, and “they have had to accept it”.
Arifin said that people involved in a case unhappy about a decision could always appeal to a higher court. “That is the process. For every decision, we (judges) must give reasons why we dismiss or allow a case.”
Arifin, who will go on mandatory retirement at the end of the month, was “sometimes quite sad” that people criticised a decision before the written judgement had come out.
The country’s top judge, who will turn 67 in October, had his term extended by another six months last year. The retirement age for judges is 66.
Arifin said people should at least read a judgement before commenting.
“We simplify our judgement. We provide a summary of the judgement that is easy for the public to understand so that they would know the reason for the court’s decision.
“I hope the public reads our judgements. After reading the judgement, you are welcome to criticise,” Arifin said.
As for the reaction of judges to criticisms, he said it was not ethical for them to openly respond to comments from the public.
“Judges are in a peculiar position. Judges cannot defend themselves through the newspaper. What they can do is through their judgement, that is all. When we make a decision, we give reasons. You can criticise but we don’t respond to the criticisms,” he said.
Arifin said the judiciary would leave it to others like the Attorney-General or the Malaysian Bar or academicians to comment as they could write anything on a judge’s decision, either to defend or otherwise.
He said a court’s decision was transparent because a judge was required to give reasons for the verdict and the public could read the judgement to see whether or not it was fair and just.
“I have always called for fair and good criticisms of our decisions so that we can develop our jurisprudence,” he said.
Arifin regards integrity as the most important criteria for being a judge, adding that there was zero tolerance for judges without it.
“The most important criteria for being a good judge is you must be of the highest integrity. Then only come the other capabilities like writing a good judgement,” Arifin said.
“You may write a good judgement but you may have no integrity and are, therefore, not a good judge.”
He said a judicial academy had been set up to provide legal education for judges from the subordinate and high courts, including training on writing judgements.
Arifin said judges had eight weeks to complete their judgement but there is certain flexibility given to judges of the Federal Court because they have to be particularly careful as some of the decisions involved making new laws.
He said that judges were required to come up with their grounds of judgement on the day they deliver their decision, if they had earlier reserved their verdict.
“But sometimes the time fixed from adjournment for decision to the date of judgement can be quiet long – two months, three months, five months, even longer – depending on the complexity of the case,” he said.
He said judicial commissioners would not be confirmed as full-fledged High Court judges if they fail to complete their grounds of judgement within the time frame.
Arifin said two of the most important criteria to measure the performance of judges and judicial commissioners were the quality of their judgements and the time they took to complete the judgement.