INTERVIEW He may have been hailed as a beacon of light in the Malaysian judiciary but he never got the promotions his peers such as recently appointed attorney-general Mohd Apandi Ali did.
Court of Appeal justice Mohd Hishamudin Mohd Yunus, who retired earlier this month, confirmed Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak halted his elevation to the Federal Court.
He explained that this happened in 2013, when the judicial appointments commission (JAC) recommended his name to the PM for appointment to the Federal Court.
“Unfortunately, the PM was not in favour of my elevation to the Federal Court. I think this fact is public knowledge,” he told Malaysiakiniin an exclusive interview.
Formed through the JAC Act 2009, the commission was mooted during former premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's time.
Its role is to ensure an unbiased selection of judges to the High Court, Court of Appeal, and Federal Court where the commission would weigh in and make recommendations to the PM.
The commission came in the aftermath of the royal commission of inquiry into the Lingam video tape controversy in 2007 that involved political interference in judicial appointments.
Hishamudin's many landmark decisions throughout his 23-year career may have impacted his promotion.
Among his memorable rulings was his decision in 2001 to release PKR leaders N Gobalakrishnan and Abdul Ghani Haroon from detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and a more recent decision that the persecution of cross dressers is unconstitutional.
Career triple bypass
As to how many times he has been bypassed for promotions to the Federal Court - whether it was three - Hishamudin said he did not bother to count.
“But probably, you could be right,” he said.
Asked how he felt about this, he admitted to feeling downhearted.
“To be honest, I felt disappointed. It would be unnatural if I did not feel that way. After all, I am human,” he said.
Hishamudin, who hails from Gemas, Negeri Sembilan, is known for many landmark judgments when he was on the bench at the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
He is one of the longest serving judges at the High Court, where he was appointed as a judicial commissioner in 1992 and then confirmed in Oct 1994, before his elevation to the Court of Appeal in April 2009.
He was the senior most Court of Appeal judge in 2015 that had not gotten promoted to the apex court.
Constitutional law expert and law professor Shad Saleem Faruqi paid tribute to this legal luminary upon his retirement with an article in The Star last week, highlighting Hishamudin’s manylandmark decisions.
It was reported in Malaysiakini in February that Putrajaya had put a stop to Hishamudin's advancement as a Federal Court judge in January 2013, as his name was omitted despite a recommendation by the commission.
The rumour then was that the snub had something to do with Hishamudin leading a panel at the Court of Appeal against Najib, which unanimously overturned the High Court decision which said M Manoharan and P Uthayakumar had no legal standing to sue the government over the welfare of Tamil schools.
Manoharan described that case, a challenge on behalf of Hindraf, as the only time someone had won against a sitting prime minister.
Disappointed but no regrets
Asked whether he views his non-elevation to Federal Court as a form of discrimination, Hishamudin quipped, "Well, what do you think?"
He added that despite the snub, he had no regrets.
“I had carried out my duty as a judge in a manner expected of me. I have upheld the oath of office and decided cases in accordance with my conscience, the law, and the Federal Constitution.
“I have consistently upheld the cause of justice. If I have to relive my life again as a judge, I would still have decided those landmark cases in the same way that I did,” he said.
On describing his retirement from the bench, he said he leaves with a great sense of fulfilment.
“I think I have done my very best in serving my country, in contributing to the development of Malaysian law, and above all, to the cause of justice,” he said.
When asked of his relationship with his peers, including Federal Court judges Abdull Hamid Embong and Apandi (above), Hishamudin said he was happy for them.
“Our acquaintances go a long way back. We were law students in London in the late sixties and early seventies.
“In fact, all three of us were on the same Qantas Boeing 707 flight that night to London in September 1969; and going under the same scholarship.
"Abdull Hamid and myself were classmates at Malay College Kuala Kangsar, from 1962 to 1968, and both of us grew up in the judicial and legal services,” he said.
Besides Abdull Hamid and Apandi, former Court of Appeal judge Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof was also from the same batch.
Justice Ariff entered the judiciary from private practice in 2009 and he retired in January from the Court of Appeal. All of them studied at the London School of Economics.