THE “INDISCRIMINATE INTERPLAY” of law and politics could produce “dire” consequences, former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim told the LAWASIAdownunder2005 conference last week.
The judiciary needed to take an active role in securing its own independence, Ibrahim said,arguing that too little judicial activism may lead to the executive imposing its will on, or “emasculating”, the judiciary, with judges making decisions according to the dictates of “the invisible hand”. If this occurs, he said, the judiciary “is transformed to achieve the destruction of the very process they were designed to protect”.
Ibrahim was jailed for six years after he was convicted of corruption and sodomy in 1999 and 2000. In two separate trials he was sentenced to a six-year term and a nine-year term, to be served consecutively. He was released after a successful appeal in September 2004. He has always maintained that the charges against him were politically motivated.
Justice Michael Kirby introduced Ibrahim, who was speaking on ‘The Law and Politics — a personal experience’, on the Gold Coast last week. Justice Kirby noted that the Australian judiciary “watch like hawks anything that smacks of interference with the legal profession”. He said he hoped Ibrahim’s experience in jail would ensure he becomes a strong guardian of prisoners and an advocate for an independent legal profession.
Ibrahim said his years behind bars “made me realise what it is like to be on the receiving end of unjust laws administered by unscrupulous politicians”. He added that when on trial, his lawyers were also “under pressure and on trial”.
Ibrahim was critical of Australia’s “deplorable” treatment of asylum seekers. He suggested the establishment of an Asia-Pacific Human Rights Commission, which would set up courts especially to hear human rights cases. The Commission would look at how courts in other jurisdictions such as Europe deal with issues related to human rights, and what aspects could be incorporated into an Australian system.
When asked by a LAWASIAdownunder2005 conference delegate how he coped with his incarceration, Ibrahim replied that he told Nelson Mandela, “Mine was a short walk to freedom”. He also read a lot, he said, including the complete works of Shakespeare four and a half times.