Arifin Zakaria gave top priority to restoring public confidence in the judiciary when he became the 13th chief justice in 2011. Due to retire at the end of the month, it remains his top concern.
In an interview at his office in Putrajaya, he recalled being deeply affected by the constitutional crisis of 1988 which ended with the removal of Salleh Abas as Lord President.
“People say that public confidence in the judiciary was at its lowest after that, and there are those who insist it is still low,” Arifin said.
“But I think that things have changed for the better over the years under my predecessors,” he said, giving special mention to Zaki Azmi and Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah.
“Still, I want to bring the judiciary to a higher level to restore public confidence fully.”
The post of Lord President was abolished in 1994. The Chief Justice is now the country’s top judge.
Arifin believes that an independent judiciary is essential for democracy, and that public confidence is necessary for the justice system to work.
“As judges it is for us to dispense justice the best we can, and as the Chief Justice, my main intention is to bring back the confidence of the public in the judiciary,” he said.
Arifin dismissed allegations that public confidence in the judiciary was very low.
“People keep coming to court to resolve disputes… those who criticise the court as unfair, unjust, biased… are the very people who come to court,” he said.
“The opposition bring a lot of cases to court against the government. If they have no confidence in the judiciary, I am sure they would not come to court,” Arifin said.
Arifin joined the civil service as a legal officer in the Prime Minister’s Department 42 years ago before becoming a magistrate in 1976. He was the Perak state legal adviser in 1988 and went on to become judicial commissioner in 1992 and high court judge in 1994. He was made Court of Appeal judge in 2002, a Federal Court judge in 2005 and Chief Judge of Malaya in 2008.
Asked about fond memories he had of his career, Arifin, who will be 67 in October, said simply: “I love hearing cases and writing judgments”.
“When I write a judgment, I put my whole soul in it. When you have heard a case, especially a complex one, and you come up with a judgment that you think is the best you have written, you really feel satisfied.
“The best thing is when you truly believe that you have done justice to a case,” he said.
Arifin, who is from Kelantan, chuckled when asked to describe himself. “I am quite open to the media and the public and quite accessible to them,” he said.
“This is because it is important for us (judges) to engage the public through the media so that we can explain what the judiciary is about and what our functions are. Also, I have nothing to hide.”
One achievement that Arifin is proud of is the clearing of a backlog of 12,000 cases in the Court of Appeal to 3,000 within two years.
“Now, they deal only with current cases,” he said.
The chief justice also introduced a new rule of court for the lower and high courts which combined and simplified their two separate rules and streamlined procedures.
Arifin also introduced many specialised courts, including those dealing with commercial, corruption and cyber cases.
He was also active at the international level, especially in matters affecting Asean countries.
He is in the Asean Law Association and Council of Asean Chief Justices which deal with such issues as common practices and enforcement of orders. “For example, we try to streamline our orders in the Asean countries so that court orders in Malaysia can be enforced in Thailand or Laos. In Singapore and Brunei we can because of our shared Commonwealth background,” Arifin said.
On his plans after leaving office, Arifin, who loves reading, playing golf and gardening, said he would go for a holiday with his family before deciding.
“If my health permits, I will continue to serve the country in whatever capacity that is available and, of course, my interest is always in the law,” said Arifin.
Asked who will take over from him, Arifin said: “Whoever is selected, he is sure to be a fit and proper person to be my successor and he will have my full confidence.”
Source : Jocelyn Ann Dragon & Suriati Sidek Ahmad @ Bernama