Chief Justices of Malaysia

Below are those who served as Lord President or Chief Justice, the highest legal position in the judiciary, in sequence with their duration in office. Although the titles are different, the jobs are the same.

(1) YAA Tun Sir James Beveridge Thomson [988 days]
Period of Service: 16th September 1963 – 31st May 1966

(2) YAA Tun Syed Sheh bin Syed Hassan Barakbah Al-Haj [831 days]
Period of Service: 1st June 1966 – 9th September 1968

(3) YAA Tun Dato’ Mohamed Azmi bin Haji Mohamed [2059 days]
Period of Service: 10th September 1968 – 30th April 1974

(4) YAA Tun Mohamed Suffian bin Haji Mohamed Hashim [3118 days] [Longest]
Period of Service: 1st May 1974 – 12th November 1982

(5) YAA D.Y.M.M. Sultan Azlan Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Yussuf Izzuddin Shah [448 days]
Period of Service: 12th November 1982 – 2nd February 1984

(6) YAA Tun Dato’ Mohamed Salleh bin Abas [1649 days]
Period of Service: 3rd February 1984 – 8th August 1988

(7) YAA Tun Dato’ Seri Abdul Hamid bin Haji Omar [2145 days]
Period of Service: 10th November 1988 – 24th September 1994

(8) YAA Tun Dato’ Seri Mohd Eusoff bin Chin [2277 days] [Second longest]
Period of Service: 25th September 1994 – 19th December 2000

(9) YAA Tun Dato’ Seri Mohamed Dzaiddin bin Haji Abdullah [815 days]
Period of Service: 20th December 2000 – 14 March 2003

(10) YAA Tun Dato’ Sri Ahmad Fairuz bin Dato’ Sheikh Abdul Halim [1692 days]
Period of Service: 16 March 2003 – 1 November 2007

(11) YAA Tun Abdul Hamid bin Mohamad [92 days] [Shortest]
Period of Service: 5 September 2007- 6 December 2007

(12) YAA Tun Dato’ Seri Zaki Bin Tun Azmi [1368 days]
Period of Service: 11th December 2007 – 9th September 2011

(13) YAA Tun Arifin bin Zakaria [2028 days]
Period of Service: 12th September 2011 – 31st March 2017

(14) YAA Tun Raus Sharif [466 days]
Period of Service: 1st April 2017 – 10th July 2018

(15) YAA Tun Datuk Seri Panglima Richard Malanjum [276 days] [Second shortest]
Period of Service: 11th July 2018 – 12th April 2019

(16) YAA Tun Tengku Maimun binti Tuan Mat
Period of Service: 2nd May 2019 –

Facts of some interest (as of now):

We have had 16 Chief Justices thus far.

(1) YAA Tun Sir James Beveridge Thomson was a Scottish jurist and barrister. He was also Chief Justice of Fiji and Tonga before becoming the first Chief Justice of Malaya in 1957. He served as Malaysia’s first Lord President of the Federal Court in 1963.

(2) YAA Tun Syed Sheh bin Syed Hassan Barakbah Al-Haj was the first Malayan appointed Chief Justice. He was also later appointed Penang Governor in 1969.

The shortest tenure was (11) Tun Abdul Hamid bin Mohamed [92 days], followed by (15) Tun Richard Malanjum [276 days] and (5) Sultan Azlan Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Yussuf Izzuddin Shah [448 days]

The longest tenure was (3) Tun Suffian Mohamed Hashim [3118 days], followed by (8) Tun Mohd Eusoff bin Chin [2277 days] and (7) Tun Dato’ Seri Abdul Hamid bin Haji Omar [2145 days].

(5) YAA D.Y.M.M. Sultan Azlan Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Yussuf Izzuddin Shah resigned as Lord President (Chief Justice equivalent) to succeed his father as the 34th Sultan of Perak.

(6) YAA Tun Dato’ Mohamed Salleh bin Abas and (12) YAA Tun Dato’ Seri Zaki Bin Tun Azmi had an expedited anointed route to their appointments by being appointed directly to the Supreme and Federal Court, respectively and rapidly after that being appointed Lord President and Chief Justice.

(12) YAA Tun Dato’ Seri Zaki Bin Tun Azmi initiated the judiciary’s digitalisation and transformation process. He can be rightly anointed ‘Bapa IT Kehakiman’. He is the only Chief Justice who had a father who previously assumed the position: (3) YAA Tun Dato’ Mohamed Azmi bin Haji Mohamed.

(14) YAA Tun Raus Sharif is the only Chief Justice whose term was extended beyond the mandatory retirement age of 66 years and six months.

(15) YAA Tun Datuk Seri Panglima Richard Malanjum was the first Chief Justice appointed from Sabah and Sarawak. He was elevated directly from the position of Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak to Chief Justice. He is the first MARA University of Technology (UiTM) graduate appointed Chief Justice. He was the first non-Muslim Chief Justice.

(16) YAA Tun Tengku Maimun binti Tuan Mat was the first woman Chief Justice appointed.

Chief Justices who have been in legal practice are:
(9) YAA Tun Dato’ Seri Mohamed Dzaiddin bin Haji Abdullah
(12) YAA Tun Dato’ Seri Zaki Bin Tun Azmi
(15) YAA Tun Datuk Seri Panglima Richard Malanjum

The overwhelming majority of Chief Justices come through the government legal service route. They work their way through a variety of positions, gradually moving higher and higher up, such as becoming Magistrates, Sessions Court Judges, Deputy Public Prosecutors, Senior Federal Counsels, Industrial Court Chairperson, appointed state legal advisors, the head of one of the Attorney General’s Chamber’s many divisions – criminal and civil litigation, advisory, drafting, international, etc.

The service route means assuming a particular pattern of government legal positions before being appointed a High Court Judge. Examples of that are as follows:

(6) YAA Tun Dato’ Mohamed Salleh bin Abas was appointed state legal adviser and Deputy Public Prosecutor for Negeri Sembilan and Melaka. His final post with the Attorney General’s Chambers was Solicitor-General.
(7) YAA Tun Dato’ Seri Abdul Hamid bin Haji Omar was a Magistrate in 1956. Then, he moved to become Deputy Public Prosecutor of Perak State and quickly became the State Legal Advisor of Perak. After a few years, he was then Chief Registrar of the Federal Court and a High Court Judge.
(10) YAA Tun Dato’ Sri Ahmad Fairuz bin Dato’ Sheikh Abdul Halim was a Sessions Court President, State Legal Advisor and chairman of an advisory board in the PM’s department before he was appointed Judicial Commissioner.
(13) YAA Tun Arifin bin Zakaria was a Magistrate, President of the Sessions Court, Senior Assistant Registrar of the High Court, Federal Counsel and Senior Federal Counsel, Legal Advisor to the Ministry of Primary Industries, Legal Advisor to the Public Services Department, Legal Advisor to Malacca and Perak, Deputy Parliamentary Draftsman and Senior Federal Counsel of the Inland Revenue Department before he was appointed Judicial Commissioner.

From the history of appointments, it would appear the chances of a judge who had or came from legal practice is less likely to be Chief Justice.

However, that pattern changed after (9) YAA Tun Dato’ Seri Mohamed Dzaiddin bin Haji Abdullah’s appointment. After him, Chief Justices with such legal practice experience were comparatively more frequent than before his appointment. After that was the appointment of (12) YAA Tun Dato’ Seri Zaki Bin Tun Azmi and (15) YAA Tun Datuk Seri Panglima Richard Malanjum. This trend is improving, but it is too soon to tell if there is a pattern.

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