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Salleh Abas, torch-bearer for judicial independence

20 Jan 2021 / 11:26 H.

FORMER lord president Tun Salleh Abas was a strong believer in judicial independence and stood strongly for his principles, said Datuk Mohd Zaid Ibrahim.

Salleh died on Jan 16, two days after testing positive for Covid-19.

“As I have mentioned before, he will go down as a judge who defended the basic structure of the Constitution.

“He defended the law as it stands and we have definitely lost an exemplary jurist who stood his ground till the very end,” Zaid, a former law minister, told theSun.

He added there were two versions of the story regarding Salleh’s removal as the lord president during the 1988 constitutional crisis, which was a series of events that began with the Umno party elections in 1987.

“It’s been 30-odd years since Salleh and five other judges – Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin, Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcader, Tan Sri Wan Hamzah Wan Muhammad Salleh, Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawanteh and Datuk George Seah – were dismissed.

The prime minister at that time, Datuk Seri (now Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad, maintained his stand that the decision to remove Salleh Abas was not his.

“However, the version given by Salleh and the other judges who were ousted tells a different story.

“Regardless of who requested for the sacking, it falls under the then ruling government’s responsibility,” he said, noting that Salleh’s removal was painful to watch not just for his peers but for all Malaysians alike.

In addition, Zaid noted that Salleh’s removal was a black moment in history for the Malaysian judiciary and he hoped that it will not be repeated.

“Those were dark times and dark times should never be given a chance to rear its ugly head again.

“Our judges must be strong and the judiciary must not allow the government to pressure them.

“They must value their independence and stand firm with their stance if something similar were to take place again.

“History should not repeat itself and for this the government must respect the institution.”

Zaid added that he was fortunate enough to persuade the then government to give Salleh and the five other judges who were removed the compensation they deserved.

“I cannot reveal how much the compensation was exactly because it is a Cabinet secret but I would say I am glad that it was a fair sum of money to compensate for the humiliation and loss the judges and Tun Salleh faced,” he said, referring to gratuity payments by the government under former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2008.

“It was the least we could do for the people who made sure our judiciary was held in high regard.”

Zaid added that he wanted the then ruling government to apologise for the ousting but was unable to achieve that goal.

“I remember him (Salleh) saying that he appreciated the money but what he wanted most was an apology.

“You see when you are dismissed from such a high and respectful position it can be very humiliating.

“It was made to look like he had done something wrong when he had not.”

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