Malaysia appoints woman as country's top judge

Maimun Tuan Mat is known to be fair-minded judge with good judicial temperament and sound knowledge of the law
Malaysia appoints woman as country's top judge

A file image of the Palace of Justice building in Putrajaya 25 km from Kuala Lumpur. A woman for the first time has been appointed as the new chief justice of Malaysia.(Photo by Kamarul Akhir/AFP)

In another first for the country, Malaysia has appointed a female judge as chief justice.

The announcement on May 2 of Maimun Tuan Mat as the country’s top judge, after the post fell vacant last month, is a reassurance that the government’s reform drive remains on track.

Malaysia’s king agreed to Maimun’s appointment as chief justice ending speculation over who would be the next chief justice after the retirement of Richard Malanjum, the nation’s first non-Muslim to hold the top judicial post.

The appointment, announced by the prime minister’s office late on May 2, was welcomed by Malaysian lawyers relieved that the new government of the Muslim-majority nation is not swayed by the tilt towards a more conservative form of Islam under the previous government of scandal-tainted former prime minister Najib Razak.

Malaysian Bar president Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor said the professional body representing lawyers in Peninsular Malaysia “wholeheartedly welcomes” the appointment.

“It is a defining moment in [the] nation’s history as this is the first time a female had been appointed to the highest office of one of the three arms of the government, the judiciary, others being the legislative and the executive,” he said in a statement to the local media.

“This goes on to show that gender should never be a consideration over merits and one’s capabilities,” he said.

Abdul Fareed said Maimun is known to be “fair-minded judge with good judicial temperament and sound knowledge of the law.”

“The Malaysian Bar has always had a good working relationship with her ladyship from the days she was the chief registrar of the federal court,” he said.

Maimun is expected to hold the post for the next 6-7 years. She is currently aged 59. Judges have to retire at the age of 66 but may serve an additional six months.

“As her ladyship will have quite a few years helming the judiciary, it will be an opportune moment for reforms to be carried out within the judiciary in order to take the Malaysian judiciary to greater heights and to erase all the negativities of the past,” Abdul Fareed said.

George Varughese, the immediate past president of the Malaysian Bar, said the new chief justice has won praise for her performance as a judge.

He told the local media that the new chief justice is “known for her sound decisions, impeccable judicial temperament and most of all her independence” and her appointment “augurs well especially for the reform of the judiciary.”

The new chief justice started her judicial career as a judicial commissioner at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur in 2006. She was appointed a High Court judge the following year, to the Court of Appeal in 2013 and named Federal Court judge in November last year.

Since the country’s founding in 1963, all the 15 judges that held Malaysia’s top judicial post, up to now, have been men.

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This is not the first time that history has been made by the new government under Mahathir Mohamad, the 93-year-old who returned as premier last year after a stunning election victory, in terms of the appointment of the highest-ranking judge in Malaysia.

Just about two months after he took over took over federal power, then Federal Court judge Malanjum, a Catholic, was appointed as the chief justice.

Malanjum was the first east Malaysian and also the first non-Muslim to be appointed as chief justice.

Malanjum retired on April 12, 2019 after serving out the additional six-month extension allowed. Despite his brief tenure as chief justice, Malanjum was hailed as being a staunch defender of the Federal Constitution and for implementing multiple reforms in the judiciary.

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