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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Extension of CJ's tenure held up by judge-fixing scandal

(STS, 27/10/2007): MALAYSIA'S top judge is due to retire in less than a week, but a controversy is brewing as the government has yet to announce either the extension of his tenure or his successor.

It is believed that the King has not yet approved a six-month extension sought by the government for Tun Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim, hence resulting in the delay.

The Chief Justice, who was recently dragged into an explosive scandal over alleged fixing of judicial appointments, will reach the compulsory retirement age of 66 on Nov 1.

The scandal erupted after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim revealed a secretly filmed video clip of a well-connected lawyer talking on the phone about using his political connections to get certain judges promoted.

Datuk Seri Anwar has alleged that Tun Ahmad Fairuz was on the other end of the line.

The government is facing mounting pressure to probe the scandal.

Human rights lawyer Haris Ibrahim yesterday handed a petition to the King, calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry, an independent and powerful body, to be set up to investigate the case.

Mr Haris said 5,036 people had signed the petition.

'We also want an overhaul of the system of judicial appointments,' he told The Straits Times.

The influential Malaysian Bar Council will also hold a meeting on Nov 22 to call for an independent commission backed by the King to carry out an investigation.

Piling on the pressure, Umno's Kota Baru MP and lawyer Zaid Ibrahim told Parliament on Thursday that the government had to be serious about the issue.

'This is not just any allegation, it is a serious allegation,' he said.

The growing pressure will make it difficult for the government to insist on the Chief Justice's term extension, although the de-facto law minister Nazri Aziz has indicated that it will not back down on its position.

Parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang wrote on his blog that 'any extension of the tenure of Tun Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim as Chief Justice...will provoke a new firestorm of nationwide protests from lawyers, the civil society and Malaysians'.

Under Malaysian law, the King's signature is needed for the extension of a judge's tenure.

This usually goes without a hitch. But this time, the King is said to have delayed giving his agreement.

The government's next step is being closely watched as it will signal its seriousness about tackling the crisis of confidence that has plagued the judiciary, to the detriment of investor confidence.


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