Foreword to May Day For Justice
This book tells the most shocking story in modern legal and judicial history.
As one of the architects of the Malaysian Constitution, I must say it never occurred to the Constitutional Commission headed by Lord Scott Reid, that the day would come when the Head of the Judiciary, the Lord President, would be faced with charges of conduct unbecoming of a judge.
There are special provisions in the Constitution for removing judges from office, but there is no specific provision in the Constitution for the removal of a Lord President himself. The thought was and is repugnant to any man of the law.
Yet today we are lumbered with a judiciary of the most extraordinary character, created as a direct result of the disaster which overtook the Most Honourable Justice Tun Mohamed Salleh bin Abas, Lord President of the Courts of Malaysia, who was accused of misbehaving himself, and removed.
A man does not climb that long ladder to the pinnacle of our judicial system without proving himself every inch of the way to be upright, and extremely fastidious about his honour. His integrity must have been proven again and again in his judicial actions, his private life and all his work in the public domain. Any man who was any less than that could not have even approached that position which, by its very nature, presupposes character of the greatest probity and rectitude. The very act of appointing such a man means that he is beyond reproach.
Yet, exactly such a man was accused of misbehaviour as a judge! He was publicly humiliated and then removed from his post on what I can only describe as trumped-up charges.
Tun Mohamed Salleh Abas, a man of humble origins - his father was a sailor and small village trader - rose to become the highest judge in the land through sheer hard work, a proven dedication to service and a great love for the law. He is also known to be a scholarly man, and a deeply religious Muslim.
I will not try to tell his story even in summary because this volume tells it all clearly and as truthfully as it is possible without breaking the laws covering official secrets, sedition and libel - though the disgraceful events surrounding his dismissal invited comments which courted all these dangers.
That the Lord President was wronged was obvious not only to the intellectuals in the country and many countries abroad but also to the average man in Malaysia. I myself repeatedly objected to the action against the Lord President and the way the Tribunal to remove him was conducted. There were a great many protests by many learned men and women against the action by the Government, but these were ignored by the authorities as well as the frightened press and mass media.
The world, nevertheless, found out what was going on. Condemnation of the affair from across the world made shameful reading. But I must say that the enormity of the travesty of justice perpetrated in order to remove Tun Salleh (and two other Supreme Court Judges) is disclosed in these pages in such detail, with such penetrating insights, that it will surely further shock and scandalize the civilised world.
Episode after episode in the book shows the spiritual corruption, the cynicism, the moral turpitude, the viciousness and the horrible ruthlessness which attended the exercise of falsely accusing him, hastily putting him before a Tribunal of questionable character and quickly removing him from office.
I do not know how any honourable government can stay in office after this book has been published. It constitutes a denunciation which cannot be answered without confessing to the most dishonourable conduct in public life.
In my time I participated in and witnessed a great many dramatic events in the national life. There were great days and there were tragic ones, there were days of high euphoria and days of great sorrow, there were days to be proud of and some days to be ashamed of. But nothing that happened in all those years from 1955 to 1970 when I headed the Government, or in the days of Tun Abdul Razak who succeeded me and later in the years of Tun Hussein Onn, nothing occurred in all those years that so sullied the fair name of this country so completely as this sordid affair: it struck a terrible blow, not only to the independence of the Malaysian Judiciary - and ruined the careers of at least three honourable men - but to national pride itself. This affair has disillusioned and demoralised many lawyers. It has severely damaged the people's faith in the law and brought several judges into disrepute. It will take a long time for us to recover from the horror and shame of this episode.
Our judges are the guardians of the Constitution and thus our democratic system of Government. When they lose their independence our precious freedoms are at once threatened. And our judges were indeed deprived of their independence in the year 1988. We are therefore in grave danger today.
We must take care not to allow the mere appearance of security to lull us into believing that because there appears to be no immediate physical danger, all is well. it is not true. As the Malay people say, "Apabila air tenang, jangan disangka tiada buaya " (Because the water is still, do not think there are no crocodiles below.)
It was not always like this.
Our independence started off very well because of our fairness, our integrity and our honesty. We take pride in the fact that we were the only country in Southeast Asia which won the battle against the communists fairly and squarely. We beat President Sukarno of Indonesia in his plan to "Crush Malaysia" and we kept the Philippines from pursuing their claim to Sabah. We established ASEAN as an organisation and brought better understanding not only among these peoples of Southeast Asia but also among other countries.We even helped President Ngo Dinh Diem keep the communists out of Vietnam and develop Vietnam on the same basis as we had developed Malaysia. (But the Americans took up the fight and changed tactics, and the Vietnam war ended tragically).
Times have changed.
This terrible episode of sacking the Lord President should.serve as a lesson to the people of Malaysia as well as to people in many developing countries where judicial independence is seen by those who wield power only as an inconvenience and a threat to what they arrogantly believe is their God-given right to do as they please.
The way I look at it, they have have made a martyr of Tun Salleh and he deserves to be honoured and respected as such. What happened to him may prevent others in this country from suffering the same fate.
What is written in this book will be a lesson to young Malaysians who have a long way to go. Let us try do what is right for the future generations. I sincerely hope this story is widely read and always remembered by the people.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, 1989