By Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, in Penang on Friday, April 8, 1994:
Judges should be subject to public accountability through public criticism and fair comment where there had been lapses in the administration of justice
The Statement by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, yesterday that total independence in the judiciary can lead to abuse of power and dereliction of duty should be the subject of a serious national debate on the present role of the judiciary in Malaysia.
Central to the whole debate must be the concept of the independence of the judiciary, its meaning, relevance and its status in Malaysia today.
The first question in whether there is independence of the judiciary, where judges are allowed to discharge their judiciary duties without undue pressure or influence, whether by the government of the day or by powerful vested interests, especially in ‘political’ and constitutional cases.
Six years after the greatest judiciary crisis in Malaysian history, the time has come for the nation to rationally and responsibly assess the status of the principle of the independence of the judiciary in the country.
Independence of the judiciary cannot mean total independence where the judiciary could perpetrate gross injustices whether by inordinate delays in cases, negligence or irresponsibility in the administration of justice, or judicial bias whether in judgement, conviction or sentence.
Judges in Malaysia must be prepared to submit to the principle of public accountability, and accept public criticism and fair comment where there had been lapses in the administration of justice without invoking the law of contempt.
There should be room for public debate and discussion on the merits or demerits of a particular judgement, conviction or sentence, particularly from the public interest point-of-view, without attracting the law of contempt.
For instance, there should be room for public discussion and debate as to whether the two-year jail sentence imposed on the MP for Bukit Bintang, Wee Choo Keong, by the Kuala Lumpur Hogh Court for contempt its appropriate or excessively harsh, as the most severe contempt sentence in Malaysiam history is a three-month jail sentence. Furthermore, whether the time has come for a law on contempt to be enacted by Parliament, as has been done in other countries like the United Kingdom, to regulate contempt proceedins.
If the air of fair comment and legitmate public criticism are allowed to blow through the judiciary, the judicial system will definitely be more relevant to public needs and problems.