Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has welcomed a proposal by the Malay rulers to clip the prime minister's powers in the appointment of judges, but says the move to ensure judicial independence will only be effective if the current government supports a constitutional amendment to completely remove the executive's say in the matter.
LFL said that under Article 122B of the constitution, the prime minister still retains the ultimate power to advise the Agong on whom to appoint to the Federal Court, Court of Appeal and High Courts, despite the existence of the Judicial Appointment Commission (JAC) to propose candidates for senior judges.
"In short, the prime minister need not accept the recommendations of the JAC. This great influence of the executive over the judiciary must be entirely removed to ensure judicial independence and integrity," said LFL director Zaid Malek.
The Conference of Rulers yesterday proposed that the prime minister should not have the authority to appoint five of the nine members of the JAC, a commission set up in 2009 to address allegations of bias in the appointment of senior judges.
The remaining four members of the commission are senior judges.
Negeri Sembilan's Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir, who chaired a two-day meeting of the Malay rulers at Istana Negara, said there was a need for more balanced membership in JAC to ensure that appointments are not biased towards any party.
He said instead of the prime minister, the power to appoint the five members should be given to institutions such as the Bar Council, the Sabah Law Society, the Sarawak Bar Association and the Parliamentary Select Committee.
"When all this is implemented, I am confident JAC will be able to carry out its responsibilities more effectively, and choose and appoint only those individuals who have a noble character, and are transparent and fair, to become judges in Malaysia," he added.
LFL, referring to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's claim of having two-thirds support among MPs, said the new government should use its position to amend Article 122B of the constitution to entirely remove his role in appointing judges and allow JAC to advise the Agong directly.
"New PM Anwar Ibrahim and Pakatan Harapan have long promised to uphold democracy and rule of law, and institute wide-ranging reform if they capture federal power.
"Now is the time to walk the talk," he said.