On March 15 this year, the Attorney-General, Tan Sri Mochtar Abdullah made his “Ides of March” speech and shocked the nation with his revelation of a 33-page poison-pen pamphlet making 112 allegations of corruption, abuses of power and misconduct against 12 judges which he said was the work of “treacherous elements” who want to “undermine the integrity of the judiciary and the administration of justice” by their “vile, insidious, devious and scurrilous” allegations and he directed the Police to investigate and “ferret out” the “conspirators” and “brutish beasts” to bring them to justice.
Four months later, the Attorney-General again shocked the nation with the declaration that everything was now fine with the Judiciary, that the author of the 33-page poison-pen pamphlet had been uncovered, that it was the work of a High Court judge who had admitted authorship and had resigned from the Bench, and that as a result no charges would be preferred against him and no other action would be taken on the matter as resignation as a High Court judge as a “very strong” and adequate punishment.
It is most unfortunate that the Attorney-General failed to discharge his constitutional duty of accountability to Parliament when the 33-page Judiciary poison-pen pamphlet was debated in Parliament in July, when he was unable to give any proper or satisfactory reply to the eight questions I had raised challenging the exercise of his prosecutorial discretion not to charge the High Court judge concerned, Datuk Syed Ahmad Idid Syed Abdullah Idid - especially as the 33-page poison-pen pamphlet making 112 specific allegations of corruption, abuses of power and misconduct against 12 judges must undoubtedly rank as the most serious offence under the Sedition Act ever committed by anyone in Malaysia since nationhood in the past four decades.
As a result of the Attorney-General’s handling of the 33-page Judiciary poison-pen episode, public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary has plunged to an all-time low.
This must be the reason why in the recent interview of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, with the Far Eastern Economic Review, the question of public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary featured so prominently.
The Prime Minister was asked about general perceptions by foreign and local business “that they can’t get justice if they are fighting local firms with powerful political connections” and their feeling that “the courts are so unfair”.
Although the Prime Minister denied that there was any basis for such perceptions by local and foreign businessmen, the fact that such perceptions are prevalent and widespread should be a matter of grave concern to Parliament and the country.
Now, the Attorney-General has precipitated another crisis of confidence with a “bombshell” speech attacking the Bar Council and the Malaysian Bar when addressing the Medico-Legal Society of Malaysia Annual Dinner in Kuala Lumpur on 19th July 1996, when he used the most disparaging and derogatory language against the Bar Council. He said:
“I have in my previous meetings with the President and leaders of the Bar Council stated that if the Bar Council does not take medication to cure itself, then it may have to undergo surgery to cure itself of its malignant illness. They have not listened to my advice...maybe surgery is now imminent or inevitable. My Chambers is presently preparing a paper with recommendations to the Government to reform the legal profession, and hopefully with proper medication, a few minor surgeries, implantations and transplantations here and there, the legal body will be cured of its many ills and live a long and healthy life, contributing to the well-being of our Nation!”
Mochtar Abdullah has undoubtedly established a record of sorts for an Attorney-General in using the most scathing and contemptible language against the Bar Council and the Malaysian Bar, which testifies to the gravity of the “bad blood” relationship between the Attorney-General and the Bar Council, as if the Attorney-General had forgotten that the Bar Council had a statutory duty under Section 42(1)(a) of the Legal Profession Act 1976 “to uphold the cause of justice without regard to its own interests or that of its members, uninfluenced by fear or favour”.
Let the Attorney-General explain in this House what he meant when he spoke of reforms of the legal profession, especially when he said that “with proper medication, a few minor surgeries, implantations and transplantations here and there, the legal body will be cured of its many ills”!
What are these possible “surgeries, implantations and transplantations”?
Does it mean amendment of the Legal Profession Act to repeal Section 42(1)(a) so as to remove the statutory duty of the Bar Council “to uphold the cause of justice without regard to its own interests or that of its members, uninfluenced by fear or favour”?
Does the Attorney-General want the Bar Council to be interested only in how practising lawyers can make the most money possible, utterly devoid of social conscience or concern about the administration of justice or how proposed legislation could adversely affect the rights of citizens and other public interests issues?
In other words, has the Attorney-General emerged as the foremost opponent in the government to the concept of a strong civil society, as his proposals to amend the Legal Profession Act with its “surgeries, implantations and transplanations” would definitely undermine the development of a strong civil society?
About “implantations and transplantations”, does the Attorney-General’s proposals include a restructuring of the Bar Council and the Malaysian Bar whereby the Attorney-General or his nominee could become the Head of the Bar Council and the stacking of the Bar Council with Deputy Public Prosecutors and government lawyers so that the Bar Council would be merely an echo of the Voice of the Attorney-General? Appoint Mochtar Abdullah as a Senator and Cabinet Minister so that he could directly account to Parliament for his various controversial decisions and actions
We want the Attorney-General to explain to Parliament the rationale behind his speech to the Medico-Legal Society and his proposals of “surgeries, implantations and transplantations” and his opposition to the development of a Civil Society in Malaysia.
Unfortunately, the Attorney-General cannot answer in Parliament personally, which is most unsastisfactory. In this debate for instance, any answer from the Attorney-General must come through the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz.
I concede and commend Nazri as one of the most conscientious government front-benchers, and many Ministers should learn from Nazri as to how they should discharge their parliamentary duties, but from past experience, we know that when Nazri answer to points raised in Parliament pertaining to the Attorney-General’s decisions and actions, he was replying on his own behalf and not on behalf of the Attorney-General. I doubt Nazri could even reach the Attorney-General personally to get his reactions to criticisms levelled against the Attorney-General, and Nazri had to invent his own replies. This is why at times, Nazri had given answers about the reasons for the Attorney-General’s decisions which are clearly at odds with those given by the Attorney-General himself.
We want Nazri to tell Parliament what were the reasons and rationales for the Attorney-General’s various decisions and actions, and not what Nazri thought were the reasons and rationales for the Attorney-General’s decisions and actions.
This state of affairs is most unsatisfactory, making a total mockery of the principle of accountability of the Attorney-General to Parliament and must not be allowed to continue.
This is why the DAP had proposed that the Attorney-General should be a member of Cabinet so that he could be directly accountable to Parliament and defend in person his decisions and actions, and no Deputy Minister need to second-guess the real reasons for the Attorney-General’s decisions and actions.
Tan Sri Mohtar Abdullah’s appointment as a Cabinet Minister and as a Member of Parliament can be easily resolved with his appointment as a Senator, and he would be able to come to the Dewan Rakyat to account for his numerous controversial decisions and actions.
The present unsatisfactory situation where the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department cannot answer on behalf of the Attorney-General, but can only second-guess what were in the mind of the Attorney-General, was illustrated yesterday when Nazri answered my question during question time and denied that there was any conflict or “bad blood” between the Attorney-General and the Bar Council.
In fact, the “bad blood” between the Attorney-General and the Bar Council has gone from bad to worse. When the President of Bar Council, Hendon Mohamed wrote to the Attorney-General expressing surprise at his allegations against the Bar Council in his speech to the Medico-Legal Society, and perplexity that his proposal for amendment to the Legal Profession Act had never been raised at a meeting between the Attorney-General, Solicitor-General, the President and Vice President of the Bar Council at the Attorney-General’s Chambers two weeks earlier on July 2, 1996, Mochtar Abdullah did the most unprecedented thing of returning the letter to Hendon with the minute: “Noted and returned to sender”!
With this episode, it would appear that the relationship between the Attorney-General and the Bar Council had reached “a point of no return” and that it has even foreclosed a “civil relationship” between both parties.
Parliament must take serious note of the “bad blood” relationship between the Attorney-General and the Bar Council and direct both parties to mend fences to work together to uphold the important principles of the Indepenedence of the Judiciary, the rule of law and the independence of the Malaysian Bar.
(b) Money politics and corruption in the recent Sarawak state general elections