CJ sees possible ‘agenda’ to portray judiciary as against Islam, intimidate judges

PUTRAJAYA, Jan 15 — Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat today said the prevailing criticism of the judiciary appeared to be based on wilful ignorance of its functions as well as a possible “agenda” to paint the institution as prejudicial against Islam in the country, saying this could equate to attempts to intimidate judges when making their decisions.

While acknowledging that free speech is central to democracy, Tengku Maimun said this liberty was not licence to propagate hate speech, fake news, or baseless propaganda.

“Comments and criticism must be based on some fact and not on lies or ignorance.

“In the best case, uneducated comments reflect sheer ignorance and in the worst case, they reflect malice,” she said in her speech at the Opening of the Legal Year 2024 here.

She cited two instances of external interference with the Judiciary, which applied in relation to the judicial role itself in the hearing of constitutional cases.

The two cases were, respectively, of a man and a women’s rights group against the Selangor state government on matters pertaining to Islam.

Tengku Maimun said both cases dealt essentially with the question of whether the state legislative assembly was empowered to pass certain legislation.

Yet some parties were attempting to paint the judiciary as having an “agenda” or motive to diminish Islam or Islamic law in the country, she said.

“Unfortunately, these two cases were made out by some parties to be more than what they actually were. These cases had nothing to do with the fact of the pure religion of Islam.

“They merely sought to re-emphasise the clear demarcation of powers between the federation and the states,” she said.

She said some critics went beyond acceptable limits, even calling into question the religions of the judges involved and suggesting that they have some ulterior motives in making their decisions.

“In other respects, such comments incite hatred and ill will among the public against the judiciary or the fear of perceived distorted outcome of such decisions.

“In certain other respects, large crowds are mobilised and their presence is used to intimidate the judges,” she said of the public need to draw the line between legitimate criticism of judicial decisions and engaging in acts that harm the integrity of the judicial institution on a whole.

In the face of attacks against the judiciary, Tengku Maimun said other actors in the justice system play a crucial role, and affirmed that no person should be allowed to use the judiciary and the justice system for their personal interests.

“The Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) can continue to carry out its functions to preserve the integrity of the judiciary and the overall justice system by taking appropriate penal measures against those who unfairly attack the justice system.

“For instance, as the guardian of public interest, the AG is arguably the only legal person in the country who can initiate contempt proceedings, against a person if he makes scurrilous comments attacking the judiciary in respect of decided or presently argued cases.

“Apart from that, everyone including the Malaysian Bar, the AGC, politicians, members of government and the general public must make every effort to remain informed,” she said.



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