(Updated)

Tengku Maimun: 1988 constitutional crisis a lesson to judges to be faithful to the Federal Constitution

Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat at the reference proceeding for the late former lord president Tun Salleh Abas at Putrajaya on Wednesday, Sept 14, 2022. (Photo by Suhaimi Yusuf/The Edge)

Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat at the reference proceeding for the late former lord president Tun Salleh Abas at Putrajaya on Wednesday, Sept 14, 2022. (Photo by Suhaimi Yusuf/The Edge)

-A +A

KUALA LUMPUR (Sept 14): Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat said the constitutional crisis of 1988 has shown that despite attempts to undermine the independence of the judiciary, judges must be faithful to the Federal Constitution and be resolute in upholding the rule of law.

Speaking at a reference proceeding for the late former lord president Tun Salleh Abas, Tengku Maimun said that the 1988 constitutional crisis which saw the removal of Salleh from his post as Lord President, was the “darkest chapter in the history of the Malaysian judiciary”. 

“The 1988 episode should be taken as a lesson to judges that despite attempts to undermine the independence of the Judiciary, judges must, in all circumstances, be faithful to the Federal Constitution and be resolute in upholding the rule of law,” she said in the proceedings which commemorated the late Salleh, who passed away in January last year at the age of 91. 

She also said that an independent judiciary that is free from external influences is the “life-blood of constitutionalism in a democratic society”.

“This is the foundation of judicial power and the central component of the doctrine of separation of power,” she said in her speech.

Salleh was appointed to the post of Lord President in 1984 and held the post until his removal in 1988, following a clash with then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad over Umno, as he was said to have fought over maintaining the independence of the judiciary in what is dubbed as the “constitutional crisis of 1988”.

Tun Salleh Abas

Tengku Maimun said this led to the upheaval of the nation’s judicial system and a “shattering blow to the judiciary and the constitution”. 

Speaking of Salleh, Tengku Maimun said he had brought the Malaysian judiciary to “to an exalted status” and his demise is a great loss to the judiciary and the nation. 

“Salleh had an illustrious and glorious career and he brought the Malaysian judiciary to an exalted status. For his eminence and judicial legacy, his demise reverberates across the nation, as his passing is not only a great loss to the judiciary, but the nation,” she said. 

“During his tenure as the Lord President, the Malaysian judiciary was hailed as a model for other countries in terms of independence and credibility,” she said. 

She added that Salleh had “valiantly” defended the role of the judiciary. 

“He reminded that judges ought to observe and respect the concept of separation of powers, for judges should not encroach into the domain of the executive or the legislative branches of the government,” she said. 

However, Salleh also acknowledged that it was the role of the judiciary to invalidate any acts of the executive or the legislative “using prerogative writs or declarations, should they transgress their powers beyond the limits granted to them by the Federal Constitution”. 

Tengku Maimun recalled having high tea with Salleh at the Palace of Justice here, seven months before his passing.

She said that Salleh had repeatedly spoken of addressing the bench, or at the very least having a simple do to mark his departure as Lord President, which he did not get in 1988. 

“For the past few decades since his removal, he said there was no closure for him as he never got the chance to bid goodbye to the court staff, the judiciary and the legal fraternity,” she said. 

“Little did we know that that evening was our final parting with our last goodbye to Allahyarham Tun Salleh Abas,” she added. 

Also present at the ceremony was Attorney-General Tan Sri Idrus Harun, who also gave a speech; Malaysian Bar President Karen Cheah, former chief justice Tun Mohamed Raus Sharif, Court of Appeal President Tan Sri Rohana Yusuf, Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Azahar Mohamed, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, Tan Sri Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim, as well as Federal Court and Court of Appeal judges.

The event was also attended by Salleh’s family. 

Lam Jian Wyn