PM: I will defend judicial independence at all costs

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Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim today gave his assurance to members of the legal fraternity that his unity government will uphold judicial independence.

The prime minister pledged his assurance when he delivered his keynote address during the opening ceremony of the International Malaysia Law Conference 2023 in Kuala Lumpur today.

“As I stand here today, I can say with utmost certainty that, since my taking office as prime minister, not only have I not encroached upon a single inch of this sacred terrain but that I shall defend, at all costs, the independence of the judiciary,” he said.

Present at the ceremony were Yang di-Pertuan Besar Negri Sembilan Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir, Tunku Ampuan Besar Negri Sembilan Tuanku Aishah Rohani Tengku Besar Mahmud, Tunku Besar Seri Menanti Tunku Ali Redhauddin Tuanku Muhriz and Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin Tuanku Muhriz, who is also the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) founding president.

Also in attendance were Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat and Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim.

Anwar said the federal government understands the importance of judicial independence for the betterment of the nation.

“I was asked to give due consideration in my speech to the subject of judicial independence, but truth to be told, that prompting is quite unnecessary for I need no reminder about the imperative of such a topic.

FMT

“Having been personally subjected to the toss and turns, the ups and downs…more downs than ups of the wheels of justice,” he said.

Anwar said judicial independence may not be evident during “certain years in the past”.

“Thanks to the blatant violation of the principle of separation of powers by those holding the reins of power not too long ago, we have witnessed the naked and brutal assault on the judiciary.

“This culminated in the emasculation of the judicial process itself, particularly in cases involving politicians who had posed a serious threat to the powers that be.

“Being held to ransom by the said personalities, certain judges consequently made judicial decisions which completely offended against our sense of justice and good conscience,” he said.

Anwar also applauded Tengku Maimum for her courageous role in strengthening the faith among the people towards the country’s judiciary.

“And by this, I mean that thanks to her steadfast stand on the independence of her judicial office and that of her judicial brethren in the face of relentless attacks, the horizon for continued judicial independence appears bright and promising,” he said.

Anwar also announced an increase of RM10mil in the allocation for the National Legal Aid Foundation.

He said the allocation would help the poor who are unable to afford legal representation.

“Most cases are postponed as they are not able to defend themselves.

“Many do not have the financial means to hire a lawyer,” Anwar told reporters.

In his speech earlier, Anwar said the law would be useless if the man in the street lacked access to justice.

“With regard to the rule of law, it cannot be viewed purely from the prism of theoretical jurisprudence, for such a principle cannot be realised if the man in the street or those lacking the economic resources are unable to access the halls of justice.

“I applaud the Malaysian Bar for their valiant efforts in providing legal aid via a scheme established more than 40 years ago.

“While in Sungai Buloh, I saw hundreds of prisoners who were given the chance to defend themselves fairly in a trial (thanks to the foundation).

“As such, I announce an increase of RM10mil for legal aid,” the Prime Minister said to cheers from participants.

Anwar had previously announced under Budget 2023 an increase in legal aid from RM30,000 to RM50,000.

Earlier in her speech, Malaysian Bar president Karen Cheah said some two million accused persons had benefited from free legal aid since the foundation was set up 40 years ago.