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Likas: Barrage of Kudos for Brave Judge
By Star AFP

26/6/2001 12:07 am Tue

The Sunday Star
25th June 2001

Barrage of kudos for brave judge

The office telephone of High Court judge Datuk Muhammad Kamil Awang virtually did not stop ringing after he had revealed that he was instructed by a superior to strike off two election petitions without a hearing.

The calls as well as letters came from across the country and overseas, praising and congratulating him for his courage in making the disclosure which one newspaper said had "stunned the nation."

"I received a lot of calls and letters of congratulations. One fellow put it very nicely ... at least I had done my duty to God, to Islam and the country," Muhammad Kamil, who retires tomorrow when he turns 65, told Bernama in an interview here.

The blitz of publicity which turned a comparatively low-profile judge into an overnight celebrity came as Muhammad Kamil was preparing to clear his desk at the civil court in Wisma Denmark here just days before his retirement.

In his written judgment read out at the Kota Kinabalu High Court on June 8, he declared the election of former Sabah chief minister Datuk Yong Teck Lee in the Likas state constituency in the 1999 elections null and void, after ruling that the electoral roll used was illegal and that Yong had committed offences under the Election Offences Act.

But it was not so much the decision to nullify Yong's election which generated public interest.

It was Muhammad Kamil's remarks towards the end of his judgment in which he said: "In my view it is an insult to one's intelligence to be given a directive over the phone that these petitions should be struck off without a hearing, and above all, it is with prescient conscience that I heard these petitions.

"God has given me the strength and fortitude, as a lesser mortal, to act without fear or favour, for fear of a breach of oath of office and sacrifice justice and above all, to truly act as a judge and not a 'yesman'."

When it was suggested to him that he would be remembered for a long time for his remarks since nothing like this had happened before, he said he only hoped that what he did would start the ball rolling in efforts to restore public confidence in the judiciary.

Among the many letters that Muhammad Kamil received, there is one that he treasures most.

It is from a "former boss" expressing hope that his action would encourage other judges to discharge their duties without fear or favour.

Following his disclosure, former Chief Justice Tun Eusoff Chin was reported in the media as admitting making the phone call to Muhammad Kamil but giving a different version, saying that he had not directed the judge to strike off the election cases but only wanted him to expedite the cases as he had been "slow."

During the interview, Muhammad Kamil said he regarded Eusoff's suggestion that he had misunderstood the directive as far-fetched.

"He shouldn't have brought this up. At first he denied calling me but the next day I read that he admitted calling me," he said.

The judge said he found it strange for Eusoff to have said that he was slow when as Chief Justice, Eusoff had kept on delaying his transfer from Sarawak (where he stayed for almost eight years) by saying that he had done a good job and that there were no other Malay judges serving in Sabah and Sarawak.

Talking about the two petitions challenging the legality of the Likas election, Muhammad Kamil described some of the evidence on the existence of phantom voters, including non-citizens with illegally-obtained identity cards, as "fantastic."

"What happened during the trial was not reported in most newspapers, only the judgment was reported.

"During the trial lots of evidence was produced in court on the irregularities of the electoral roll and even three senior federal counsel who were present could not rebut this," he said.

He disclosed that one of the witnesses he subpoenaed to give evidence in court was later found killed while another witness was kidnapped during the lunch break.

Asked about the "extra remarks" in his written judgment on the election petitions which some people said should not have been there, Muhammad Kamil said the remarks were known in law as obiter dictum (opinion of the judge).

In his judgment, he noted that many government departments did not respond to letters and cited two examples.

One was where his son had applied for a temporary work permit in Sarawak which was refused, and another where his daughter had applied for a scholarship for a post-graduate course.

In both cases, there was no acknowledgment despite reminders.

Asked whether Yong, the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president, could again stand as candidate in the Likas by-election, Muhammad Kamil said: "It's not for me to say. As election judge, I only say this candidate has committed offences under the election law but I cannot charge him because I'm in an election court. If the Attorney-General or somebody wants to charge him under the criminal law, they can."

In his judgment, Muhammad Kamil found that Yong had committed offences, including putting up four billboards bearing false statements against another candidate, Datuk Harris Salleh.

"I cannot disqualify him (Yong). The Election Commission can, if it wants," he said, citing a few other similar cases.

On his retirement plans, he said he had many options to consider but for the moment he wanted to take a well-deserved rest.

"I have many options, people have been calling me to work as a consultant, and of course universities are always short of law lecturers," said Muhammad Kamil who specialised in constitutional law during his years in the Attorney-General's Chambers prior to being appointed a judge.

On life as a judge, he said: "People say life as a judge is very lonely. We should mix with the people, then we understand the conditions. You know and understand the people and the conditions, because the law is a living thing. You have got to bring it up to the present day. You cannot have the law static."

Here he quoted the late Tun Mohamed Suffian Hashim, the former Lord President who died last year: "It's not so much the law that you know but the common sense that you have."--Bernama


Malaysian judge insists he was pressured to drop sensitive case

KUALA LUMPUR, June 24 (AFP) - A Malaysian judge who says his superior pressured him by phone to drop a politically sensitive case has stuck to his story despite a denial from the then-chief justice Eusoff Chin.

High court judge Muhammad Kamil Awang, in an interview carried Sunday by the official Bernama news agency, described Eusoff's account of the phone conversation as far-fetched.

Muhammad Kamil sparked a furore this month when he said he had been ordered by a superior in 1999 to drop a case alleging electoral fraud in the eastern state of Sabah.

Eusoff has since admitted telephoning Muhammad Kamil but has denied he told him to strike out the petitions from two candidates who were defeated in the state elections.

Eusoff has said he called merely to direct the judge to speed up the case and described this as normal practice.

Muhammad Kamil, who retires from office Monday at age 65, was quoted by Bernama as saying Eusoff's suggestion that he had misunderstood the directive was far-fetched.

"He (Eusoff) shouldn't have brought this up. At first he denied calling me but the next day I read that he admitted calling me," Muhammad Kamil said.

Despite what he described as pressure to drop the case, Muhammad Kamil ordered a member of the ruling coalition, former Sabah chief minister Yong Teck Lee, to vacate his seat in the state assembly.

The judge ruled that Yong won it with the help of "phantom (unregistered) voters".

The judge's comments sparked a furore in Malaysia, where critics of the government say judicial independence has long been under threat. Police have begun an inquiry into the case.

Muhammad Kamil said he had received many calls and letters of congratulations.

He described some of the evidence of electoral fraud produced during the 1999 hearing -- including non-citizens with illegally-obtained identity cards -- as "fantastic".

The judge was quoted by Bernama as saying one of the witnesses he subpoenaed to give evidence was later found killed while another witness was kidnapped during the lunch-break.

No details were given and the judge could not be reached for comment.

The opposition Sabah United Party at the time accused the ruling coalition of using "dirty tactics" to win the state polls.

It complained to police that it had proof 30,000 immigrants were issued Malaysian identity cards to allow them to vote.