Judges should be aware of public opinion, but they are not bound by it.
It is mischievous for anyone to try to tarnish the image of the courts and bring it into disrepute through unfair, biased and unenlightened criticism simply because they happen to not like particular decisions, says Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat.
She said constructive criticism is always welcomed, but not attempts to undermine the judiciary’s independence.
“Last year, attempts to intimidate or otherwise exert improper pressure on judges presiding over public interest cases were becoming more obvious,” Tengku Maimun said at the opening of the new legal year in Putrajaya today.
“These attempts are a direct affront to the rule of law and judicial independence.
“They certainly deserve condemnation, and indeed many have spoken out against them in strong terms.”
Tengku Maimun stressed that judicial independence will not be compromised so long as cases are decided without fear or favour, without ill will or motive, without any external or internal pressure and without regard to personalities.
“As long as every judge remains committed to these principles, and united in applying these maxims, I am confident that judicial independence will be upheld,” she said.
Tengku Maimun reiterated that judges should make decisions and write judgments premised on the law and not on the notion of wanting to seek popularity.
“We write to keep the public abreast of the judicial function and not to seek validation from the public or from any other quarters.
“If a judge decides a case premised on anything other than the law and/or facts, then he makes a decision that is not sound in law. And in which case, the judge fails to uphold judicial independence and the rule of law,” she said.
Tengku Maimun also stressed her recognition of the right of every citizen to criticise the judiciary and to test the correctness of its judgments through due process.
“Indeed, judges should be aware of public opinion, but they are not bound by it. Healthy attention and constructive comments towards the judiciary and its work are always to be welcomed as they help us to reflect on our work, improve to the best of our abilities and competence, and also remind us of the utmost importance of upholding judicial independence to maintain the rule of law.
“Thus, the criticisms that we receive should not result in disharmony between the judiciary and members of the Bar, any political alliance, or the general public, but rather, it should solidify and augment our determination to be even more united in upholding the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.”
She also advised judges to ensure their grounds of judgments are clear, coherent and concise so that every layer of society could be easily understood.
Later this afternoon during a press conference, Tengku Maimun expressed her appreciation for the public support of the judiciary in court cases involving certain “personalities” and “political sentiment”.
“What was extraordinary was the outflow of support or extreme criticism when I received a death threat. Whether that (death threat) was serious or not is another issue.
“We appreciate society’s support which understood every decision we made. We have no specific agenda except to act in accordance with the law,” she told the media.