I MUST apologise for saying upfront that I will not be so bold as to declare that since we have the three arms of government -- the legislative, the executive and the judiciary -- therefore, we practise the separation of powers doctrine.
Separation of powers is desirable only if we believe that power corrupts, and that a concentration of power in the hands of a few increases the risk of abuse. Hence, the need to provide for checks and balances where power is concerned.
If we believe in the rule of law, then we also must understand that we must be prepared to defend the principles established under our laws.
When the Bar Council organised a conference to discuss the implication of conflicts of laws in marriage and divorce where one spouse converts to Islam, they were bombarded with threats and physical abuse.
Where does the law of our country sit on this issue? Is the organisation of such a forum which covers such topics a violation of the law?
If so, then the council should be taken to task and action should be taken against its officers. But if what they did was undesirable or stupid, or lacking in good judgment, then advice would be sufficient.
But if what they did was within the confines of the law, then in the ideal world the law would be enforced to defend their rights.
If the police were seen to be defending those who were out to stop a legal and legitimate activity or discussion, then do we uphold the law by doing so?
Racial abuses, inflammatory statements that Islam was under attack and the climate of fear that would be created were raised in defence of their actions.
Again, they succeeded in stopping the forum. Again, the mob was successful, because the police once again decided that the Bar was the culprit. So what is the future of the rule of law in this country?
The tragedy of our time is that Islam has more often been used by politicians and rabble rousers.
We do not need self-declared champions of Islam to storm meeting halls and disrupt proceedings; or to increase the level of hatred among races . These people are not capable of understanding and empathising with the real problems the people are confronted with.
So they have no business declaring that they were demonstrating in and defending God's name. A true believer must be prepared to find solutions to people's problems and fight for justice for all. A good Muslim should know that.
Now about the courts. Judicial reform means that justice must be available freely and easily to the people. The court system must facilitate that. People should not be asked to wait many years to get justice. We all know that "justice delayed is justice denied".
More importantly for me, judicial reform means that the judiciary must be independent. It must be insulated from pressures, from directives and people cannot and should not be allowed to bring their influence to bear on the courts.
Whoever sits on the bench must be of unquestioned integrity and ability. The selection process of judicial appointees must be transparent, systematic and open.
Restoring confidence in the judiciary is one of my priorities. It not only sounds good; it is good for the country in many tangible ways. Studies all over the world have shown that people do not invest in a country where they do not have faith or trust in the legal system.
Hence, it makes business sense to have a credible judicial system. We have to convince people that a system that operates under a shroud of secrecy is not good for risk management and optimum operations of the economy, and for the government itself.
More importantly, we need a mind-set change. Young people like you must not perceive judicial reform and judicial change as undermining some cherished political foundation. There are some people who perceive the change as limiting their powers and these people always fear that they will be made worse off by the change.
Some are made to feel that the more opaque the system, the more secure they feel. Therefore, they feel threatened when we say we want openness and processes driven by transparency.
Judicial reform and law reform are intertwined. The courts, as an institution in the pursuit of justice, does not operate alone. If we want to reform the law and the justice system, we also need to reform the police and the office of the attorney-general.
How the police exercise their powers of investigation; how the public prosecutor makes his decisions to prosecute or not to prosecute; how transparent and accountable the office of the public prosecutor or attorney-general is; what benchmarks are set by the police and the A-G are all processes which are part of the justice system.
The reforms I have in mind will include reforming the Attorney-General's Chambers.
The police are the mother of law enforcement and the exercise of their enforcement powers must be fair, professional and in accordance with the dictates of the law.
Any negative perception must be removed. Public complaints must be handled properly, devoid of any semblance of abuse of power.
The setting up of a commission has been suggested by the Royal Commission chaired by Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah.
The prime minister has also agreed that a special complaints commission be established and it is one of the things in the pipeline for law reform.
Source: Malaysian Bar Council: Zaid Ibrahim: Visions of judicial reform