Malaysians should not be caught up merely with the convictions in particular cases; they should instead demand accountability in the entire process of the justice system, says Ronald Benjamin.
It has become a habit among simplistic politicians and even intellectuals to stretch a particular issue from its core and exaggerate it to suit their political vendetta or to make them look credible in the eyes of the public.
One such instance is the so-called debate on Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction for sodomy. Besides this, the condemnation of the entire judiciary as beholden to the government is another example of a simplistic black-and-white argument crafted to suit a political agenda.
Some time ago, a prominent intellectual who was disgusted with the criticism of the judiciary wrote that it was time for the Bar Council to come up with statistics of how many times the government and the opposition had lost or won cases in the court. He said this to protect the integrity of the judiciary which he felt had been deliberately tarnished by the political opponents of the government. He was not so much concerned about certain embedded contradictions in the justice process, which starts from reports, to investigations, to the framing of charges, right up to hearings in a court of law.
We not only have to inquire into a particular case or whether a certain conviction is justified or look at so-called statistics. We also need to carry out a deep and comprehensive analysis of the state of our justice system in the country.
For example, it is vital to ask why it is rare in Malaysia for sitting cabinet ministers to be charged in court for corruption or abuse of power.
Why is the public prosecutor determined to charge opponents of the government on particular issues deemed to be seditious? How are remarks made by extremist groups that are aligned to a political organization overlooked?
How could certain aspects or evidence be omitted from a court of law, for instance, the motive for murder, which could be determined by the presence of an important witness who has certain connections to a prominent politician?
Why is there a contradiction when it comes to justice where some judges uphold the federal constitution on minority rights while some judges are perceived to be more inclined to follow their ethno-religious conviction?
Have court cases won by opponents of the government significantly altered the course of justice in the country?
In a nutshell, can the justice system in Malaysia pass the test of justice against the entire web of corruption, abuse of power and ethno-religious manipulation?
From these questions, we can see that we need to look at the means and ends of a justice system instead of merely focusing on the ends of the judgment of a particular case of a prominent politician or so-called statistics that merely focus on these ends.
These issues are important but they should be related to the means used and the integrity to uphold justice in a consistent manner – from how an investigation is conducted and how charges are framed, right up to a hearing in a court of Law.
It is time for Malaysians not to be caught up merely with the convictions in particular cases. They should instead demand accountability in the entire process of the justice system through the prism of fairness, equality and consistency in line with the principle of equality enshrined in the Federal Constitution.