Court ruling stands: Minister cannot just revoke appointments to vice-chancellor selection committee

The higher education minister’s decision was invalid in law and an unreasonable exercise of power

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On 12 August 2021, the Kuala Lumpur High Court quashed Higher Education Minister Dr Noraini Ahmad’s decision to revoke the appointment of Gerak executive committee member Dr Andrew Aeria from the ministry’s permanent selection committee for the appointment of public university vice-chancellors.

The selection committee (known as the 4A Committee) was established under Section 4A of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA).

Dr Aeria had filed a judicial review to challenge the summary termination of his appointment from the A4 Committee in April 2020.

In allowing the judicial review challenge, the High Court granted an order of certiorari to quash the higher education minister’s decision to terminate Dr Aeria’s appointment to the selection committee. It declared that Dr Aeria had been unlawfully terminated from the 4A Committee.

The High Court judge also made declarations that:

  • the higher education minister’s decision was invalid in law and/or an unreasonable exercise of power in the Wednesbury sense
  • the minister’s decision was procedurally improper and/or in breach of natural justice as Dr Aeria was not afforded an opportunity to be heard before the termination
  • the minister’s decision was ultra vires Section 4A of the UUCA

The High Court clarified that the pronouncement also means Dr Aeria continued to be a member of the 4A Committee from the date of his appointment on 1 October 2018 until the date of the High Court order, ie 12 August 2021.

Further, the High Court awarded costs to Dr Aeria, with an order for damages to be assessed for the unlawful termination of his appointment as a member of the 4A Committee.

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Gerak welcomes this landmark decision for two reasons.

First, it sets an important precedent, limiting the powers of the higher education minister under the UUCA.

Second, it underscores the critical importance of Section 4A which mandates the minister to consult and be guided by the decisions of the 4A Committee.

As the 30-day appeal period for this case has lapsed, Gerak welcomes the attorney general’s decision to not appeal this judgment. – Gerak

Dr Andrew Aeria was represented by lawyers Gregory Das and Ilyssa Jace Chakrabarty.

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