ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Weeding out judicial graft
Publication Date : 31-01-2013
What do a goddess and the wife of an emperor have to do with judges?
Throughout history, they have always been associated with justice and judgments.
The Greek goddess is Themis, whose statue is seen in lawyers’ offices, courts and even in pubs – at least the one across from my office, which boasts its “longer” bar, probably compared with the length of another famous watering hole where the country’s top lawyers tend to congregate.
She is the blindfolded lady in flowing robes who holds the balancing scales in one hand and a sword in the other.
Commonly referred to as the “Lady of Justice”, Themis was a deity of laws for both divine and human conduct.
She issued edicts via the great oracle of Delphi, which she presided alongside the god Apollon.
Her father was Uranos (Uranus), god of the sky, while her mother was Gaia, goddess of the earth.
The sword and blindfold were originally not part of her gear but only the scales, representing the balanced judgment needed.
The sword was added later to imply the force of the law while the blindfold was meant to bar her from being influenced by illusions, to just hear both sides and decide fairly.
Historians have also traced the “Lady of Justice” to the ancient Egyptian idol of Ma’at, who also wielded a sword but did not carry scales. Instead, she had an ostrich feather in her hair to symbolise truth and justice.
No, I don’t get it too, unless justice means sticking one’s head in the sand and pretending not to see anything.
Ma’at helped Osiris in the judgment of the dead by weighing their hearts. The word “magistrate” is supposed to be derived from her name.
The other lady linked to judges and judgments is Pompeia, the woman whom Julius Caesar married after the death of his first wife Cornelia in 67BC.
It was a politically expedient marriage for the 35-year-old emperor, whose 21-year old bride was definitely not the shy and blushing type in an era noted for its debauchery.
She was apparently involved in an affair with Clodius, a scion of one of Rome’s top families who had quite a reputation as a Casanova.
As the story goes, Clodius, dressed in drag, sneaked into the palace during the women-only festival of Bona Dea (Good Goddess) when age-old secret rites were performed.
The plan was to pretend to be one of the female musicians in the entourage but Caesar’s eagled-eyed mother Aurelia caught him out.
It was a huge scandal. Although there was no direct proof of adultery, the emperor soon divorced Pompeia.
He was reputed to have said: “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion” - a quote which has ended up being used to gauge the uprightness of judges.
For context, let’s look at the image of the judiciary in Malaysia.
It can’t be denied that a cloud of suspicion has been hanging over it since a sitting High Court judge made 112 allegations against 12 of his peers in an anonymous 33-page letter in 1996.
The judge, Syed Ahmad Idid, came out openly 10 years later to admit he wrote it and that the accusations were never investigated properly.
Three eminent former Court of Appeal judges have now called for the allegations against the 12 judges to be re-examined.
And the cloud has been hovering lower after the Royal Commission of Inquiry probed into the infamous “Correct, Correct” video clip involving a judge and lawyer V.K. Lingam, the outcome of which remains unresolved.
Five years ago, the then Chief Justice (CJ) Zaki Azmi spoke openly of graft involving the bench, claiming he knew of two retired judges suspected to be corrupt.
He highlighted corruption at the lower levels of the system and even admitted to paying bribes as a lawyer to ensure that his files were attended to.
Three weeks ago, the current CJ, Arifin Zakaria, raised the issue of judicial corruption again by urging lawyers and the public not to bribe the judges, stressing that both the giver and taker were equally guilty.
It was a notable point because as things stand, it seems like it is better to give than receive when it comes to bribes.
And the much touted noble profession, like all other vocations, has its share of crooks who can fix the outcome of cases.
When my colleague Shaila Koshy put it to Bar president Lim Chee Wee recently that behind every corrupt judge, there is almost always a corrupt lawyer, he response was: “I agree, it is likely; not always, but likely.”
But to be fair, the Bar Council has been working hard to eradicate the practice with Lim saying it was aware of serious hints of corruption involving lawyers as givers or facilitators of bribes.
The Bar has so far reported three alleged cases of tainted judges to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.
A retired Court of Appeal judge and two High Court judges are currently under probe. The amount in alleged corruption in the cases involves millions of ringgit.
It is a good start towards restoring public confidence in the rule of law and judicial integrity.
The credibility of the country’s judicial systems is dependent upon the conduct and image of judges appointed to the exalted office.
As the ultimate custodians of public trust, the men and women who wield the gavel are expected to be persons of unsullied honour and high moral values.
They are expected to remain above suspicion and dispense justice with honesty, objectivity and fairness.
M. Veera Pandiyan is Associate Editor, The Star.