Bar to Zaki: Justice must not be sacrificed for speed

Bar to Zaki: Justice must not be sacrificed for speed

PUCHONG: Justice should not be sacrificed for the sake of speed or expediency, said the Malaysia Bar today.

Bar president Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor said this in response to former chief justice Tun Zaki Azmi’s call for judges to be selective when allowing lawyers to postpone their cases from being heard.

“The Bar has often reiterated that an excellent justice system requires a combination of a fair conduct of cases, efficient disposal, and well-reasoned and well-written decisions, so as to ensure that justice is done – and is seen to be done – in all cases.

“In the administration of justice, the emphasis must be on quality and integrity over quantity, and to ensure that justice is in no instance sacrificed for speed or expediency,” said Fareed in a statement.

Last week, Zaki spoke out against the tendency of certain defence lawyers seeking postponements of cases being heard in court.

He also suggested that the Federal Court make a ruling that ongoing trials should not be held back just because of interlocutory applications by lawyers.

Disagreeing with Zaki, Fareed said that when the former led the judiciary, the courts were too focused on clearing backlog cases.

This has led to the perception that courts were more interested on the speed of cases are disposed, which led to instances of injustice, especially in the lower criminal courts.

He added that the public may have not the benefit to engage lawyers of their choice and many lawyers were stressed as they had to cope with the speed of disposal of court matters.

“There were also times where courts proceeded with criminal trials without the accused person being represented by a counsel.

“Furthermore, lawyers did not have sufficient time to prepare for their cases,” said Fareed.

He reminded Zaki that litigation was not an exact science and a certain degree of latitude must be allowed in court cases.

Fareed added that expediting criminal hearings may not be in the public interest as it may result in instances of flawed acquittals, or an accused being denied the right to a proper hearing.

He also noted that it is crucial for judges to have discretion on whether to grant postponements or adjournments.

“Any ruling that removes this crucial element of discretion would significantly restrict the effectiveness and value of the judicial process.

“Reasons behind any backlog must be correctly identified and understood.

“Administrative reforms to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the judicial process should therefore continue to be addressed, in tandem with reforms aimed at bolstering judicial integrity and independence,” said Fareed.

Meanwhile, the Bar also urged the government to establish the royal commission of inquiry into allegations of judicial interference and misconduct as soon as possible.

“We also want the RCI’s terms of reference to be expanded to include recommending holistic proposals for comprehensive reforms to improve and strengthen the judiciary,” said Fareed.

Early this year, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced that the government would establish an RCI into allegations of judicial interference and misconduct after Court of Appeal judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer made damaging revelations in regards to judicial interference.

Former Sabah chief minister Yong Teck Lee had filed a court action to stop the establishment of the RCI, saying it was unconstitutional and was in breach of the doctrine of separation of powers.

By G Vinod