“But if the moral authority of the judiciary is held in high esteem by the people, that would strengthen the position of the judiciary and constitute a definite check against improper acts by the Executive, as voters may well cast their verdict against the government at the next general election” – Tun Salleh Abas, March 1984
When verdicts delivered by our judges appear misinformed and ill-founded, the instinct is to withdraw our support from the courts all together. This instinct may prove to be more destructive than decades of bad judgement. A healthy democracy is contingent upon the functioning of all three branches of government, proper or improper, competent or incompetent. When public confidence in either branch of government is eroded, insecurity, fear and dissatisfaction ensues. To lose faith in any one branch therefore delegitimizes any claim to authority one might purport to have. Unlike the legislature and the executive however, the judiciary is not elected by popular vote. This means that the judiciary will continue to exist regardless of what government is in power. It is for this reason that while confidence in our judges may wane from time to time, faith in the judiciary as an institution cannot and should never be compromised. This faith should remain steadfast, even while the judiciary may not appear to be independent, seemingly only doing the will of the executive.
There has been much dejected talk among the public of late with regard to the flurry of court cases involving civil activist and selected members of the opposition. It may indeed be popular opinion that judges today are merely pawns of their Executive masters. This perception may or may not be ill-founded. If it is true, it may certainly seem rational that people should call for a boycott of the entire judicial system. What is the use in continuing to feed a system that is perceived to be corrupt and contemptuous? I myself have thought as much in recent weeks. All these baseless allegations and unscrupulous awarding of damages from a string of defamation charges shake the confidence of the ordinary person in seeking redress for his/her grievances from our courts. Yet, it is exactly at times such as these that the public must stand resolutely behind the judicial system. The judiciary remains our final safety valve when the Executive and the Legislature act ultra vires.
To abandon the courts means to abandon the law. But as Aristotle has once warned us, “where laws are not supreme, there do demagogues spring up.” It is up to the public then to throw its weight behind our democratic institutions, particularly, our judiciary. We must continue to be critical of our judges sure, continue to question questionable verdicts and seek justice where it is not being served. Never must we however, at any rate, abandon our faith the the judicial system. It is a democratic imperative. Our former aggrieved Chief Justice, Tun Salleh Abas reminds us, “An independent Judiciary is key to national unity and progress”. Yet even when the judiciary is far from independent, where it is not comprised of men of high honor, where justice is not seen to be done according to the oath of office that our judges have taken, we the public must remain steadfast in our demands for justice, and continue to bring our grievances to the court of law. Our hope is that one day, the fountain of justice will again begin to flow, but we cannot do this without a fountain.