KUCHING: The High Court here yesterday dismissed Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) application for Judicial Commissioner Christopher Chin to recuse himself from hearing the Sarawak government’s suit against the national oil corporation over unpaid state sales tax (SST).
Earlier, Chin in his ruling said there was no real possibility of perceived bias by fair-minded observers of whatever decision he would make in the case.
“The application, even with the avowed best intentions of the defendant, is an affront to the judiciary in Malaysia and is frivolous and without merit,” he said.
According to him, the defendant’s argument in support of their application for his recusal was premised on a real danger of perceived bias that he might decide the case to favour the Prime Minister due to pressure to earn confirmation as a High Court judge.
“They argued that as a judicial commissioner, my tenure is temporary and is subjected to confirmation by the Prime Minister who is the person with ultimate control over them (Petronas).
“During my nine months on the bench, I had never been instructed, hinted or urged by my ‘bosses’ – the chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak, the chief justice, or any judge or person for that matter – on how I should decide any dispute.
“Despite my lack of seniority and judicial experience, I have full and unfettered independence in deciding all cases as I see judicially fit,” he said.
He added many judicial commissioners who had delivered judgements against the federal government still received their confirmation in their posts.
He assured the public that judicial independence is alive and well in Malaysia and any attempt to subvert it must be firmly resisted.
He, however, thanked the defendant for bringing up the application.
“One good thing has emerged from this application for which I am grateful to the defendant. I now truly understand and with sharp focus, the true meaning of discharging my judicial duties, without fear and favour,” he stated.
The plaintiff was awarded RM50,000 in costs.
Meanwhile, Petronas lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said the recusal application was made in the best interests of the administration of justice.
He said Petronas would appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal.
The national oil company also applied for a stay of proceedings and the hearing will be heard on Feb 5.
Chin, who was born in Kota Kinabalu, was a private legal practitioner for 37 years before he was appointed as a judicial commissioner about eight months ago.
Assistant Minister of Law, State-Federal Relations and Project Monitoring Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali was earlier reported as saying that the legal action was being taken to recover the SST owed by Petronas to the state.
“As has been mentioned several times before, they (Petronas) have not paid the SST for petroleum products under the State Sales Tax Ordinance 1998, which is due to the state,” she said, adding the five percent SST was imposed on Jan 1 last year.
The Sarawak government is suing Petronas for unpaid SST amounting to RM1.3 billion.