Friday, September 17, 2010

Judiciary fails to protect minority rights: Sri Ram

(Malaysiakini) Former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram said today that the judiciary has failed in its duty to defend minority rights.

Since the executive branch is elected by the majority, and as such it represents the rights of the majority, Sri Ram argued that the judicial branch has the duty to protect the rights of the minority.

"It is the judiciary which must fulfill this task,” said the former judge in his speech at the National Conference on Integrity in Kuala Lumpur today.

gopal sri ramSri Ram told the 350-strong audience that if the question was asked on whether the judiciary has performed its duty, the answer he said would be an “emphatic no!".

According to him, this was because the judiciary has become so "executive-minded" that the judges have become creatures of the government.

"The judiciary is so anxious to help the executive... And when you bend the law to help the executive, this results in ridiculous decisions," contended Sri Ram.

He cited examples of the courts reversing decisions through the Federal Court to accommodate the wishes of the federal government.

Sri Ram believed that such interference by the executive was clearly a breach of the doctrine of separation of powers.

The powers to convict and sentence are exclusive to the judiciary and Sri Ram said this role should not be usurped by the executive.

1988 judicial crisis
But more worryingly, Sri Ram contends, is that this failure to protect the rights of the minorities bodes more future ill for Malaysia for the judiciary also holds another higher duty.

"It is up to the judiciary to preserve our constitution," he said.

"And when and if it fails in that function, then the state has failed," warned Sri Ram, who retired from the judiciary in February this year.

He indicated that the failure of Malaysia as a state may indeed be imminent given the deteriorating condition of the judiciary since the 1988 crisis, which saw the sacking of a number of Malaysia's top judges. 
Sri Ram had the distinction of being plucked from private law practice and appointed straight into the Court of Appeals.

He however was stuck in the appellate court for 15 years, with a number of judges who are more junior than him being promoted to Federal Court.
It wasn't until 2009, months before he was due to retired, that he was named a Federal Court judge.