A seat on the judiciary is a prestigious position to hold because you do not apply to be a judge. Instead, you have to be a lawyer with at least 10 years of experience before you can be invited to be a judge. There is much reverence attached to this high-level position.
The reason is clear. A judge is an important person who presides over a court of law and assesses a case based on evidence and testimonies submitted by witnesses and lawyers. He then makes a judgment, passes a ruling or sentences a convicted felon.
Previously in Malaysia, the judge shared the responsibility of making a judgment with a jury but this practice has been abolished. In many parts of the world, this practice is also being abolished. This makes the judge a key player in the judiciary hence the election of a judge is done with great care.
Not all lawyers can be invited to be a judge. You must exhibit an impressive ability throughout your career before you gain the recognition. As a judge, you can move up the ranks according to the levels of courts too. The hierarchy of higher courts in an asending order starts with the High Court followed by the Court of Appeal and finally the Federal Court at the highest level. Heading the hierarchy is the Chief Justice of Malaysia. The job of a judge is so important that it comes with some perks, like a car with tinted windows and bodyguards. Some judges become more prominent after presiding over high-profile cases. Another point to remember is that judges do not pick their cases. They are randomly selected to preside over cases and often do not make decisions quickly, unlike what is represented on TV.
Most cases carry on for months or even years. Often, one siting will see some evidence put forth before the case is adjourned for another sitting because of an absenteeism, to await new paperwork to be filed or for other reasons.
A judge is not to be mistaken for a magistrate. A magistrate functions like a judge but for the Magistrate’s Court, which is a subordinate court. The subordinate courts are the Sessions Court (which are presided over by judges, like the high courts) and the Magistrate’s Court. A magistrate in the Magistrate’s Court is not a judge but an officer of the court. A first class magistrate only needs to have a law degree but not necessarily have a Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP). A second-class magistrate does not even need a law background His duties are limited; he can solemnise marriages and settle claims under RM1,000 among other duties. Second-class magistrates are not often appointed nowadays.
Magistrates do undergo training for the job to cover basic law and procedures so they may execute their job effectively. Their training and experience makes them invaluable to the court they work in. This experience can be used to settle disputes effectively as smaller claims often arise from petty matters that have been made complicated.
For all their work, a judge or magistrate must have a clear mind. One who allows emotions and personal beliefs to cloud his judgement cannot make an efective judge. A judge must be rational, analytical and focused to absorb all the information and be able to identify evidence from the clutter of information. Personal judgment to give a verdict and pass a sentence is used on some occasions and clemency may be used to pass a more lenient sentence but only within reason. It is not easy to be a judge. The level of knowledge of the law is at its highest, and you must be certain and steady in handing out sentences as it can literally mean life or death.
DID YOU KNOW?
Here are some quirky facts about laws and parliaments:
The Roman emperor Caligula made his horse a senator. Though they are televised, proceedings in the British parliament are supposed to be held in private. If a member wants to have a secret session, he or she will point to the public gallery and call out “I spy strangers!”, after which the members will vote that the ‘strangers do withdraw’.Pennsylvania was the first colony of the United States to legalise witchcraft.