One of Malaysia’s most disgraceful detestable and debatable episodes was the 1988 judicial crisis that led to the sacking of former Lord President of the Malaysian Courts, Salleh Abbas.
The sacking was ‘questionable’ because there’s doubt about its kosher-ness, though …..... well now, I don’t intend to venture into an area armed only with prejudice and suspicion, and without the detailed facts of what had really happened. So I’ll leave that to people who know the system and the facts surrounding one of Malaysia’s most controversial events.
But what was beyond doubt had been a No 2 man of an organization sitting in judgment of his boss, the No 1 man, where the No 2 man stood to gain by any adverse finding on the No 1 man.
The ‘conflict of interest’ was utterly indefensible, and the (lack of) ethics of the situation was wretchedly loathsome. It was a contemptible situation with an equally contemptible outcome.
The No 1 man then was former Lord President of the Courts, Salleh Abbas. No 2 man was his deputy, Hamid Omar, who acted in Abbas position as Lord President when Abbas was made to stand aside. And the finding on No 1 man by No 2 man was adverse - a finding made loathsome and utterly despicable because a Deputy had sat in judgment of his superior where he eventually benefited from that judgement.
According to Malaysiakini, “… in 1988, Salleh, the former lord president, was found guilty of judicial misconduct by a special tribunal chaired by Hamid. At that time, Hamid was acting lord president and next in line to succeed Salleh.”
“Strong objections, especially from the Bar Council, were raised then over Hamid’s role in the tribunal.”
According to Param Cumaraswamy, then president of the Bar Council during the 1988 crisis, he went to see Hamid about the blatant ‘conflict of interest’. He said:
“We went to see Hamid to advise him not to accept the position for the obvious reason that he was next in line. I advised Hamid ‘please don’t (accept), you will cause a very ugly embarrassment to the judiciary.”
Param revealed Hamid’s reply: “His (Hamid’s) response was ‘Param, if I don’t accept, I will be sacked. If I am sacked, will you or your Bar Council compensate my losses of remuneration?’”
I am just staggered by such an unmitigated disgraceful, shameless and selfish response.
Param also quoted Hamid as telling him defiantly, “Param, if you want, you can go and advise the King” to which Param shot back at Hamid, telling him that as acting Lord Presidnet, he was in a better position to advise the King.
If what Param has exposed is accepted, what sort of man would that have made Hamid?
Now, read another Malaysiakini report titled Anwar: Stopped from stemming judicial rot where PKR’s de facto supremo revealed that when he was both DPM and Finance Minister he had tried to intervene in a dodgy court finding but was told to stay on his own turf.
Anwar was referring to the Ayer Molek case of 1994-1995. Justice NH Chan made his immortal statement of “Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark”, a comment borrowed from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (looks like it's not just Anwar among Malaysians who loves Shakespeare).
The Shakespearean quote found resonance within the legal circle because the Commercial Division of the High Court, which made the original questionable finding, is located in Denmark House in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur.
Chan sitting with Siti Norma Yaakob and KC Vohrah had overturned that dodgy high court judgment, but to their dismay, found in turn that their finding was subsequently overturned by the Federal Court.
Then Chief Justice Eusoff Chin had presided over the Federal Court sitting and in fact wrote the opinion.
Chief justice Eusoff Chin was of course the bloke who became a Malaysian household name after he was photographed in 1994 with lawyer VK Lingam (of the current videotape notoriety) while holidaying in New Zealand under circumstances that, as Malaysiakini reported, "... would give rise to the inference of a serious breach of professional conduct on part of the lawyer and even more serious implications of unethical conduct on the part of the chief justice".
But after Anwar was criticised during a public forum as to why he had acquiesced on issues of corruption during Dr Mahathir’s PM-ship (when he now could pontificatingly moralise about the sins of the BN), he informed us about his 'magnificent and valiant' effort during a cabinet session, where he bravely announced (quoting from bits & pieces from Malaysiakini):
“I discovered corruption was becoming endemic and to fight it from within was simply too arduous a task ..... I also concurred with the Rulers' Conference which raised doubts over the recommendation that Justice Mokhtar Sidin be elevated from the High Court to the Court of Appeal ..... When I tabled Chan’s judgment at a cabinet meeting, it was the first time a minister had done so.”
He then explained why, apart from his 'magnificent and valiant' effort (revealed above), he didn’t or couldn't stop the rot: “I would have been removed earlier had I objected earlier.”
Er... wait a minute ... wouldn't this be a case of déjà vu? Didn’t I just hear that “I’ll be sacked unless I go along with it” story from Hamid Omar (as revealed by Param Cumaraswamy)?
Well now, as I've said, I don’t intend to venture into an area armed only with prejudice and suspicion, and without the detailed facts of what had really happened. So I’ll leave that to people who know the system and the facts surrounding one of Malaysia’s most smooth talking never-ever-wrong personality.