Judges, in all circumstances, must be faithful to the Federal Constitution and resolute in upholding the rule of law, Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tun Mat said yesterday.
Speaking at the reference proceedings to honour the memory of former lord president, the late Mohamed Salleh Abas, she said the year 1988 would always be remembered as the darkest chapter in the history of the Malaysian judiciary as its independence, vouchsafed by the Federal Constitution, was stunned by Salleh's removal.
"It infamously led to the upheaval of the nation's judicial system and a shattering blow to the judiciary and the constitution," she said.
Tengku Maimun said the 1988 episode should serve as a lesson to judges as, despite attempts to undermine the independence of the judiciary, they must, in all circumstances, be faithful to the Federal Constitution and resolute in upholding the rule of law.
In paying tribute to Salleh, Tengku Maimun said the former lord president was a great and courageous legal luminary as he had staunchly defended the Federal Constitution and championed the judiciary's independence until the very end.
She said Salleh had said that judges ought to observe and respect the concept of separation of powers, for judges should not encroach into the domain of the executive or the legislative branches of the government.
Tengku Maimun said Salleh, who valiantly defended the role of the judiciary, had also acknowledged that it was the role of the judiciary to invalidate any acts of the executive or the legislative using prerogative writs or declarations, should they transgress their powers beyond the limits granted to them by the Federal Constitution.
She said during Salleh’s tenure as lord president, the Malaysian judiciary had been hailed as a model for other countries in terms of the independence of credibility of the judiciary.
Seven months before his passing, the judiciary invited Salleh to the Palace of Justice for a high tea to commemorate him as a special feature in the Malaysian Judicial Yearbook, she said.
Tengku Maimun said that in one of his many interviews, Salleh had repeatedly said that it was his last wish and fervent hope to address the bench or, at the very least, to have a simple do to mark his departure as lord president.
"For the past few decades since his removal, he said there was no closure for him as he never got the chance to bid good-bye to the court staff, the judiciary and the legal fraternity. The evening ended with a simple send-off ceremony for Salleh," she said.
"Little did we know that that evening was our final parting with our last good-bye to Salleh."
The reference proceeding was chaired by Tengku Maimun who sat on the bench with Court of Appeal president Rohana Yusuf, Chief Judge of Malaya Azahar Mohamed and Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim.
Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department in charge of Parliament and Law Mas Ermieyati Samsudin and 39 of Salleh's family members were also present at the reference proceeding, a time-honoured tradition to remember departed members of the legal fraternity.
Attorney-General Idrus Harun and the Malaysian Bar president Karen Cheah, as well as Salleh's grandaughter Nuralissa Norrazak, also delivered speeches in his honour.
Salleh, who hailed from Kampung Raja, Besut, in Terengganu, died at the age of 91 on Jan 16 last year at Hospital Sultanah Nur Zahirah in Kuala Terengganu, two days after testing positive for Covid-19.
He served as lord president of the Federal Court for four years from 1984 before being removed in 1988 during a constitutional crisis where he fought to preserve the independence of the judiciary when Dr Mahathir Mohamed was prime minister.
He then joined politics, contesting and winning the Jertih state seat in Terengganu on a PAS ticket in 1999.
After quitting politics, Salleh practised law and appeared frequently in the Federal Court and Court of Appeal.