Lack of diversity in appointments to high office in judiciary

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It is long overdue for a woman judge to be elevated to the position of one of the office holders in the Judiciary, says Ambiga Sreenevasan.

The appointment of the present chief justice and president of the Court of Appeal to continue in their posts after the mandatory retirement age of 66 years plus a further six months allowed by the Constitution has understandably generated a great deal of controversy in legal circles as well as the public.

Many question the constitutionality of these appointments.

It is unfortunate that we have the highest levels of our judiciary embroiled in a constitutional crisis when it is the apex Federal Court that routinely deals with constitutional matters.

Is it not apparent that the time is long overdue to appoint the most qualified judge from East Malaysia to fill the post of chief justice?

And is it also not equally apparent that it is long overdue for a lady judge to be elevated to the position of one of the office holders in the Judiciary?

It is imperative to address the lack of a gender balance in the top echelons of the Judiciary. There are highly qualified women who are now Federal Court judges who richly deserve the right to be considered for these posts. Siti Norma Yaakob was the last and only lady judge of the Federal Court appointed as Chief Judge (Malaya) from 8 February 2005 – 5 January 2007. This was more than a decade ago.

The judiciary, above all others, must uphold the Federal Constitution in word and in spirit. It must reflect in its appointment process to high judicial office, the salutary article 8 that (all other things being equal), there shall be no discrimination on the grounds of “religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender”.

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While preparing this statement it was announced that Baroness Hale will be the first female president of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. A timely reminder for our Judiciary from this fresh breeze from afar.

Ambiga Sreenevasan is president of Hakam.

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