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Feb 11, 2008

The Clown Court In Malaysia


Once the hilarity and jokes die down, the sobering thought remains that there's something rotten about the state of our judiciary.

It's a legal proceeding that should have sobered us all up. After all, the very act of it performing its duties, even within its narrow frame of reference, exposed the inner workings of parts of the Malaysian justice system.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry was tasked with essentially determining the authenticity of the so-called V.K Lingam video clip. In doing so, it had to look into the bigger picture as well. But as they unfold, the proceedings have become the object of much hilarity and disbelief amongst the public.

British TV had its Crown Court, Malaysia has its "Clown Court."

Sales of T-shirts, emblazoned with some of the more quote-worthy statements made by the witness, are soaring. In private discourse, many Malaysians now make their points and announce their achievements with a "pom, pom, pom, pom," mark their agreement with the triply-affirming "correct, correct, correct," and protest their innocence of any kind of wrong-doing with "looks like me, sounds like me..."

And if that doesn't work, there's always the tried-and-true "I forget" and "I can't remember." There is enough here for the wits at the Instant Cafe Theatre to sharpen their knives and perhaps stage a new run of stand-up routines (take the hint, guys), but they'd be hard put to come up with anything funnier than what we're reading in our daily papers.

All this levity cannot disguise the fact that a can of worms has been opened. Even if you ignore the ultimate implication of that phone conversation - that here were people who had undue influence over the appointment of the highest officers in the judiciary, and who were prepared to haggle over such appoinments as if they were peddling fish - you'd have to acknowledge that there is truly something rotten in this state of affairs.

We're even not talking about what the Royal Commission has uncovered so far. No, we're merely talking about the conduct of certain members of the legal fraternity, some of whom held important offices, as well former movers and shakers in the Executive.

We're talking about, not to put too fine a point on it, respect for the Law.

The evasiveness on show during these proceedings put even the most melodramatic of legal shenanigans in TV shows such as Boston Legal and the old LA Law to shame. It's one thing to treat the judiciary as your own personal fiefdom; it's another to treat it as a playground. It's one thing to defend yourself; it's quite another to dare some form of repercussion with a "you can't touch me" shrug of the shoulders.

The Royal Commission decided on Jan 25 to restrict access and hold some parts of its inquiry behind closed doors, but it was closing the barn doors after the horse had bolted. And that's a good thing, believe me.

By then, it has become obvious even to the most dispassionate of observers that what was being said by some of the people practising and laying down the law underscores the need for a complete review of what goes on behind the closed doors of chambers across the legal infrastructure in Malaysia.

These were people who were supposed to uphold the system, not make a mockery of it. This is the arm of the state that dispenses that all-important human right: Justice. Even if it turns out that a senior lawyer was actually drunkenly bragging and overstating his connections, or that political compliance did not dictate judicial appointments, the conduct of some of the witnesses already reflects badly on the legal system and fraternity.

One can't help but think that the 1988 crisis, which saw the judiciary come under the aegis of the Executive, has come home to roost. The question now is: What are we going to do about it? After the Royal Commission of Inquiry has completed its task, what are we prepared to do to put things right?

Just as 1988 was a landmark year for all the wrong reasons, judicially speaking, let's make 2008 a landmark year for all the right ones.

(Taken from TheStar Newspaper. Written by A. Asohan, New Media Editor at The Star Newspaper)


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