On 28 November 2017, the 31st Sultan Azlan Shah Law Lecture was held at the Grand Ballroom of the St. Regis Hotel, Kuala Lumpur. The lecture was organised by the Sultan Azlan Shah Foundation and the University of Malaya. It was an honour to have an address given by the highly-esteemed guest speaker, The Right Honourable, The Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, on the topic of “The Rule of Law, the Executive and the Judiciary” in the presence of DYMM Paduka Seri Sultan Perak Darul Ridzuan, Sultan Nazrin Shah, and DYMM Raja Permaisuri Perak Darul Ridzuan, Tuanku Zara Salim.
DYMM Paduka Seri Sultan Perak Darul Ridzuan, Sultan Nazrin Shah, The Right Honourable Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and Datuk Ir. (Dr.) Abdul Rahim Hashim, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malaya (UM) before the lecture session
Lord Thomas began the lecture by explaining the definition of the rule of law before moving on to discuss the interdependence of the three main subjects of the topic which are the rule of law, the executive, and the judiciary.
Lord Thomas opined that there are two crucial issues to be considered in strengthening the rule of law and in ensuring proper relationship between the executive and the judiciary; first, the safeguard of the independence of the judiciary and second, the importance of strengthening the relationship between the two organs particularly the appreciation of their respective roles.
The Right Honourable Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales delivering the lecture
Lord Thomas then went on to discuss the ways to maintain the independence of the judiciary wherein nine main points were highlighted. Firstly, it is important to ensure the recruitment of the right people in the judiciary as the judiciary needs the best, the brightest, and the very experienced to effectively administer justice. Secondly, the independence in the appointment of judges into the judicial office must be maintained to reach a certain level of quality that is necessary to sustain judicial independence. Thirdly, careful deliberation must be given in regard to the position of terms of service, especially the dismissal of judges as judges should not be dismissed when they make unpopular decisions. Further, Lord Thomas spoke on pension or retirement where he is of the opinion that retired judges should not be engaging in activities that might tarnish the reputation of the judiciary to safeguard the standard of the judiciary.
Fourthly, it is essential to ensure a proper financing for effective and efficient administration of justice. Fifthly, the maintenance of high standard in delivering justice, which he viewed to be the most important element in ensuring public confidence, can be achieved by fulfilling these three conditions; (i) the judiciary must be fully prepared to deliver justice to the highest standard, (ii) judges must take part in significant upcoming changes, and (iii) judges must engage in development of law such as Fintech to ensure that the application of special knowledge like science is correctly applied in the legal context. On the sixth point, Lord Thomas stressed on the governance of ethics and discipline whereby a proper machinery of discipline and good governance of judiciary should exist to maintain judicial independence. On the seventh point, it is immensely crucial that the public have a proper understanding on the rule of law and the centrality of justice to galvanise their support towards the administration of law. On the eighth point, Lord Thomas opined that every judge and judicial system should consider a radical change when it comes to communication to ensure that the society at large is able to understand their conducts in court. Lastly, the judiciary should not engage in political issues and must exercise self-restrain.
Lord Thomas then continued the lecture by addressing the second issue that he has highlighted earlier which is the interdependence between the judiciary and the executive. He emphasised that there should exist a clear and common understanding of the roles and functions of each branch of the state, and mutual respect and support towards their respective roles. He also opined that tension between the executive and the judiciary could only be useful in maintaining the rule of law if it includes constructive engagement between the two branches.
Guests leaving the Grand Ballroom after the 31st Sultan Azlan Shah lecture ended
In conclusion, judges clearly have a vital role in upholding the rule of law internationally, and it is essential that the proper position and functions of the judges are made clear. It is not to be taken lightly the issue on whether it is right for the judiciary to be left with wide discretion to decide on certain matters. At the end of the day, in upholding the rule of law, what matters the most is the relationship between the judiciary and the executive, and the influence that they have over each other.
Illianie Mohd Taib and Lily Sabreena
(Edited by Corina Robert Mangharam)