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Let right be done

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It is never too late for right to be done and for the truth to be told, says Ambiga Sreenevasan, in launching the report of a panel of eminent persons to review the 1988 judicial crisis.

So much is said about justice, truth, and the Rule of Law. Today, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, these words come alive.

An English play entitled “The Winslow Boy” by Terence Rattigan tells of a 13-year old boy in the early 1900s, wrongly expelled from the Royal Naval College for allegedly stealing a postal order from a fellow cadet. The College refused to review its decision. The boy’s only hope was to set forth his request for an open trial in a “Petition of Right” which was presented to the King. King Edward VII signed the boy’s “Petition of Right” in May 1909, writing the immortal words: “Let Right Be Done”. A few days into the trial it was accepted that the boy was innocent and the family was paid compensation.

Powerful words, “Let Right Be Done”. This is why Mr. Yeo Yang Poh, the immediate past President of the Malaysian Bar, called upon the Government in 2006 to review the 1988 Judicial Crisis. He said:
It is, quite simply, a question of seeking the truth. Are we not interested in the truth? Can we afford not to be? Is the Malaysian society not entitled to the truth?

He also said: This is absolutely crucial, not just for those judges and others who have suffered at the unseen hands of the perversion of justice. This is equally important for the institution of the Judiciary, and indeed for the nation as a whole. History requires the truth, and society demands what is just.

“Let Right Be Done”. This is why when we were rebuffed, we proceeded, with three respected organisations, to appoint a Panel of Eminent Persons to review the findings of the two tribunals. The process commenced in September last year.

”Let Right Be Done”. This is why we are here today.

It may have taken 20 years but it is never too late for right to be done and for the truth to be told.

The Bar did not waver

The Bar has been steadfast in its support of the Judges whom we knew had suffered a gross injustice in 1988. Not once did the Bar waver despite the attempts made by certain quarters to persuade the Bar to soften our stand against those who helped perpetrate the injustices. Even these attempts were resoundingly defeated by the members of the Bar.

And that is the Bar for you. We have been called many names before – pro-opposition, anti-government, pro-government and recently other names. But our history and our conduct will show that only one label truly describes us, and that is that the Bar is “pro-justice”. What we are “anti” is “injustice”. Those who criticise us must know that we do not speak for ourselves, but for those who are vulnerable and weak and whose voices are not loud enough to be heard. We gain nothing for ourselves personally in being so forthright and we act only in what we believe to be in the public interest. The Bar is a truly Malaysian organisation pursuing the Malaysian dream of a just society.

Recently the Bar has been at the forefront of fighting for judicial reform. Our Walk for Justice, our active participation in the Royal Commission into the videoclip incident, our push for the Judicial Appointments Commission, our setting up of the Panel of Eminent Persons, all point to our absolute commitment to the Rule of Law and the Independence of the Judiciary.

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On the 17th of April 2008, the Government had acknowledged the wrongdoing to the Judges affected by the 1988 Judicial Crisis by giving them or their families ex-gratia payments. Although this may have gone a long way towards compensating these Judges for their pain and suffering, it nevertheless left the record against them untouched. Thus the work of the Panel, which had already commenced the previous year, took on greater significance.

We seek closure

There are many who take the view that the events of 1988 should be left in the past and that we should move forward. However, we believe that a process of truth and reconciliation is critical before we can move forward, as the injustices committed in 1988 cannot be left unresolved and unacknowledged in our history. We believe that this is an essential first step in the process of judicial reform.

The purpose of this review must therefore be made clear. We need to learn valuable lessons in order that history does not repeat itself. As George Santayana once said, “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” We seek no punishment. We seek a correction of the record that now stands against these innocent Judges. We seek closure for these respected Judges. We seek closure for our nation.

We would further like to state for the record that although three Judges were ultimately dismissed, six Judges suffered in all. Six Judges were suspended. The three who were ultimately reinstated suffered during their suspension and even when they were reinstated. They were never given due recognition for their flawless years of service on the Bench. Some were potential Lords President or Chief Justices but these positions eluded them. Needless to say, the Judges who were removed paid a heavy price for acting in accordance with their consciences. These Judges acted with courage in upholding the Rule of Law in the face of much adversity.

The Judges who were suspended and dismissed are Tun Dato’ Haji Mohamed Salleh Bin Abas, the late Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Bin Pawan Teh and Datuk George Edward Seah.

The Judges who were suspended but reinstated are the late Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcader, Tan Sri Wan Hamzah and Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin.

We, the members of the Bar, salute them.

Report sets the record straight

This report is of tremendous value to us today and for the future. Not only does it set the record straight, its value also lies as a testament to the fact that unjust decisions are always open to scrutiny and those in power will forever remain accountable for their actions. Most importantly its value lies in its reminder to all that such despicable acts must never be allowed to happen again.

And now I will digress a little. I hope you will forgive me for doing so.

We are here to celebrate justice, truth and the Rule of Law. In that celebration we must not forget those who suffer as a result of a violation of these sacred ideals.

I am speaking of those presently held under the dreaded ISA. We say, charge them in court for the alleged offences and give them a chance to defend themselves. Incarcerating them without a trial is a tremendous disservice to the Rule of Law.

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I will give you some facts :-

There are currently 66 detainees held under the ISA in Kamunting, many of whom are foreigners.

A. Those detained for more than 6 years

1. Yazid bin Suffat
2. Suhaimi bin Mokhtar
3. Abdullah bin Daud
4. Mat Sah bin Mohd Satray
5. Shamsuddin bin Sulaiman

B. Those detained for more than 5 years

6. Abdul Murad bin Sudin
7. Zaini bin Zakaria
8. Zainun Rasyhid
9. Wan Amin bin Wan Hamat
10. Sulaiman bin Suramin

C. Those detained for more than 4 years

11. Zakaria bin Samad
12. Ahmad Zakaria
13. Terhamid bin Dahalan
14. Mohd Khider bin Kadran
15. Sufian bin Salih
16. Hasim bin Talib

D. Those detained for more than 3 years

17. Abd Rahman Bin Ahmad
18. Lai Kin Choy
19. Lai Kee Yew
20. Mahfudl Saifuddin
21. Mulyadi
22. Ariffin

E. Those detained for more than 2 years

23. Mat Tarmizi bin Zakaria
24. Mohd Arasad Patangari
25. Adzmi Pindalun
26. Idris Bin Lanama
27. Ahamad Ghafar Shahril
28. Jeknal Adil
29. Binsali Omar
30. A Artas Bin A Burhanuddin
31. Mohd Nasri Bin Dollah
32. Francis Indanan
33. Husin Bin Alih
34. Yusoff Bin Mohd Salam
35. Abdul Jamal Bin Azahari

F. Those detained within the last two years

36. Pakana Bin Selama
37. Shaykinar Bin Guat
38. Argadi Bin Andoyok
39. Kasem Dayama
40. Ng How Chuan@John
41. Ng Keat Seng
42. Mohd Azuan Bin Ariffin
43. Mohd Faizol Bin Shamsudin
44. Zulkifli Bin Abu Bakar
45. Amir Hussain
46. Mohd Amir Bin Mohd
47. Zulkifli Bin Marzuki
48. Ahmad Kamil Bin Mohd
49. Mohd Nasir Bin
50. Tan Choon Chin
51. Mavalavan a/l
52. Sanjeev Kumar a/l Khrishnan
53. Lian Kok Heng
54. Sundaraj Vijay
55. San Khaing
56. P. Uthayakumar
    (member of the Bar)
57. M. Manoharan s/o Mala-
    yalam (member of the Bar)
58. R. Kenghadharan s/o Rama-
    samy (member of the Bar)
59. V. Ganabati Rao s/o Veraman
    (member of the Bar)
60. T. Vasanthakumar s/o
61. Shadul Islam
62. Abdul Sathar Mohammad
63. Faycal Mamdouh
64. Mahamad Nakhrakhel
65. Muhammad Shuaib Hazrat
66. Muhammad Zahid Haji Zahir

These are not just names. These are real people with real families whose lives have been thrown into turmoil. We call for their immediate release. I have only read out the names of those held under the ISA. We cannot forget the more than a thousand others held under other preventive detention laws.

And now back to the report of the Panel of Eminent Persons. The Panel comprised: The Hon’ble Mr. Justice (Retd.) J.S.Verma, former Chief Justice of India, who chaired the Panel; The Hon’ble Mr. Justice (Retd.) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, former Judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan; Dr. Ms. Asma Jahangir, an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Tan Sri Dato’ Dr. Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman, a senior legal practitioner from Malaysia; Dr. Gordon Hughes, a senior legal practitioner from Australia and former LAWASIA President; and Dato’ Bill Davidson, a senior legal practitioner from Malaysia.

It was critical that the persons chosen to sit on the panel are respected, independent persons of the highest integrity. The backgrounds of the members of this Panel speak for themselves. The report speaks for their high intellectual ability and integrity. We commend this Panel of Eminent Persons for its tireless efforts in producing this historic report before August this year, in time for the 20th anniversary of Tun Salleh Abas’s dismissal.

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I must also make mention and acknowledge the contributions of my committee and all those who have helped to make this happen. They are :-

• Christopher Leong
• Ranjit Singh
• Razlan Hadri Zulkifli
• Syahrul Bahriah Jamaludin
• Conrad Young
• Puteri Shehnaz
• R.R. Chelvarajah
• Rajen Devaraj
• Mohd Rezib Mohamed
• Sivaneindiren s/o
• Andrew Khoo
• Shamala Devi Balasundaram
• Mahaletchumi Balakrishnan
• and all the members of the Bar

I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of the legal team for the Judges in 1988:
• En. Raja Aziz Addruse
• Dato Dr. Cyrus Das
• Mr. P. Royan
• Mr. Varghese George
• Mr. Tommy Thomas
• Mr. Darryl Goon Siew Chye
• En. Zainur Zakaria
• Mr. Wong Chong Wah
• Mr. Vinayak P Pradhan
• Mr. Philip Koh Tong Ngee
• Dato’ R R Sethu
• Mr. Robert Lazar
• Dato’ Ghazi bin Ishak
• Dato’ Cecil Abraham
• Mr. Walter Wilfred Abraham
• Dato’ Loh Siew Cheang
• En. Mohamad Ariff Bin Mohd
• The late Mr. Christopher

In addition, I wish to recognise the principal office bearers of the Bar Council for the relevant period from 1987 to 1989:
• Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy
• Dato’ Dr. Peter Mooney
• Mr. Jagjit Singh
• Mr. Mura Raju
• En. Raja Aziz Addruse
• Mr. S. Theivanthiran
• Mr. Manjeet Singh Dhillon

I understand that this report is possibly the first of its kind ever to be written. I wish to thank the participating organisations – International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute represented by Tuan Haji Sulaiman Abdullah; LAWASIA, represented by Mr Mah Weng Kwai, the President; and Transparency International-Malaysia, represented by Richard Yeoh and today by its President, Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam – for sharing our vision and ideals. They did not hesitate for one moment when we invited them to participate. We are all proud to be associated with this endeavour.

I wish to end by saying that, for all those who have faced injustices and continue to face injustices, “Let Right Be Done”.

With that, I am delighted to launch the “Report of the Panel of Eminent Persons to Review the 1988 Judicial Crisis in Malaysia”.

Dato’ Ambiga Sreene-vasan is President of the Malaysian Bar. The above speech was delivered on 29 August 2008 at the launch of the Report.

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