The Malaysian government frequently asserts that the judiciary is free from external control, pressure or influence.
However, contrary to this statement, the judiciary appears to be plagued with a serious and ongoing credibility crisis.
Since the removal of the Lord President of the Federal (“Supreme” since 1985) Court of Malaysia, Tun Mohamed Salleh Abbas, in 1988, the judiciary’s image has suffered considerably and has been struggling to live up to the doctrine of the separation of powers and to function as an independent pillar of a democracy.
This situation has been aggravated by a series of high-profile political trials over the years, most recently the controversy-ridden Anwar Ibrahim corruption and sodomy cases. The appointment and promotion of judges continues to lack accountability and transparency.
In August 2004, the Malaysian judiciary released its first annual public ‘report card’, a self-assessment exercise aimed at demonstrating the judiciary’s greater transparency.
This initiative, although welcomed as a positive development, has done little to meet the requests of the public. Legal amendments meant to combat terrorism have put at risk effective due process and fair trial rights. In the absence of true judicial independence, legislators in Malaysia are free to draft laws that run contrary to the spirit of the country’s Federal Constitution.
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