Sunday, November 8, 2015

Dismay over ‘trend’ of fewer judgments read in open court

BY V. ANBALAGAN, ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR

Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria should come out with a directive to compel his subordinates to read judgments to instil confidence in the courts, say lawyers. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, November 8, 2015.

Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria should come out with a directive to compel his subordinates to read judgments to instil confidence in the courts, say lawyers. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, November 8, 2015.
It is proper decorum for judges to read their written grounds in open court although there is no legal requirement for them to do so, retired judges and lawyers say as they noted the refusal of some sitting judges to do so.
They said Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria should come out with a directive to compel his subordinates to perform that important judicial function, with one lawyer, M. Viswanathan saying the refusal appeared to be a growing trend.
Reading out the grounds of judgment would instil confidence in the courts, besides being a mark of a judge’s competency, they added. 
Retired Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram said reading a judgment in open court was the proper decorum.
“The litigant is entitled to know the reasons judgment is given for or against him,” he said, adding that it was also judicial convention that had been followed for several hundred years.
Sri Ram said this in response to judicial commissioner Siti Khadijah S. Hassan Badjenid, who did not read the grounds of judgment in dismissing Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s defamation suit against Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman last week.
The judge only handed a draft of her judgment to the lawyers for Anwar and Anifah.
‎Sri Ram, who has returned to law practice, said he, too, had similar experience with a judge who dismissed his client’s suit with a one-line statement after reserving judgment.
The least that expected was from a judge was to read out a skeletal judgment for the benefit of the litigants, Sri Ram added.
“In that case, we were told that judgment would be ready in two weeks. Fifteen months have lapsed but the written grounds have not been made available yet.”
Sri Ram, who has been known to provide lucid and landmark judgments while on the bench, said written grounds must be provided and read immediately for the sake of transparency.
“Complications arise when oral grounds differed from the written judgment.”
Viswanathan said he had experience of a High Court judge who refused to read the grounds of judgment despite having prepared one in an appeal over a death in custody case.
“I insisted that she read her grounds as the family members of the victim were present. Instead, she told me to get the judgment from her secretary,” he said, describing the refusal of some judges to read out their judgments as a growing trend.
Viswanathan said Arifin must come out with a directive to compel judges to read out written judgments.
Lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdullah says litigants have a right to know why a judgment is reasoned out either to their benefit or against them. – The Malaysian Insider pic, November 8, 2015.Lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdullah says litigants have a right to know why a judgment is reasoned out either to their benefit or against them. – The Malaysian Insider pic, November 8, 2015.“This will certainly help to instil confidence in the judiciary,” he said, adding that reading out a judgment before litigants and the public was a hallmark of a competent judge.
There would be unnecessary speculation and doubts if appointed judicial officers were reluctant to pronounce judgments after hearing submissions from competing parties, he added.
However, retired Court of Appeal judge Datuk Shaikh Daud Ismail said the practice depended on individual judges.
“Some read judgments if it is a high-profile case while others do not do it but instead pass copies to lawyers,” he said, adding that there was no written rule that court verdicts must be read in open court.
He said some judges would only read out salient points of their judgments to save time.
But lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdullah said while such a practice was not compulsory, it was good for the benefit of litigants.
“They have every right to immediately know why a judgment was reasoned out in such a manner,” he said.
Haniff said reading out judgments was the “core of our adversarial judicial and legal system”.
He said lawyers for litigants were expected to come fully prepared with all necessary legal materials in support of their case.
“Therefore, it is their right to expect the court to be fully prepared to deliver decisions, supported by valid grounds, expeditiously.” – November 8, 2015.
- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/dismay-over-trend-of-fewer-judgments-read-in-open-court#sthash.ChfPRu9N.dpuf

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