Tengku Maimun Is Malaysia’s First Woman Chief Justice. Here’s Why It Matters

By now, you would have heard the news that Malaysia has a new Chief Justice, and for the first time in our history, the Chief Justice is a woman: Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat. You may be wondering why this is such a big deal, or what even a Chief Justice does. If so, read on.

What is a Chief Justice?

The Chief Justice of Malaysia or Ketua Hakim Negara is the highest position in the Malaysian judicial system. The Chief Justice serves as the head of the Federal Court, the highest court of Malaysia, and oversees the Malaysian court system and all its judges.

Being elected to this role requires the consent of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the advice of the Prime Minister and after consulting the Conference of Rulers.

Who is Tengku Maimun?

A Kota Baru native and University Malaya graduate, Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat was most recently a Federal Court judge. Her career began in 1982 as a legal officer in the South Kelantan Development Board.  In 1984 she became legal officer in the Seremban Municipal Council for two years before joining the Attorney General’s Chambers in the Drafting Division.

(Photo: The Star)

She then went on to serve as Chief Registrar of the Federal Court, Judicial Commissioner and High Court judge of Kuala Lumpur, High Court judge of  Shah Alam, Court of Appeal judge before her appointment as Federal Court judge in November last year. Tengkuu Maimun She has also held several posts including magistrate, Sessions Court judge, federal counsel and senior assistant registrar as well as special officer to former Chief Justices Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah and Tun Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim.

Needless to say, Tengku Maimun’s illustrious career and impressive track record of fair-mindedness, good judicial temperament and legal knowledge make her perfect for her new position.

Why does it matter?

It’s easy to brush off Tengku Maimun’s historic election when you listen to detractors that say that “gender is irrelevant”. But it isn’t.

“There is no dispute that intelligence and just judgment are equally distributed between men and women, but this has not been apparent in the representation of women as Malaysia’s Chief Justice. From my time in law school to my court days practicing as a litigator, I looked at the Chief Justice position as men in robes who held the highest power in Malaysia’s judiciary system, never thinking that women too can hold the title,” says Izzati Rahman, Dispute Resolution Consultant and Author at Laws in Translation.

There are huge, wonderful implications of a woman occupying the highest judicial position for the first time in our country’s history. There aren’t enough women in positions of power, and especially not in positions that can influence policies that affect the lives of the everyday citizen. As the head of the judiciary system, a Chief Justice wields a lot of influence. And seeing a case from a woman’s point of view, or having a woman understand and represent the interests of other women, can go a long way towards fairer outcomes and better lives all round.

“The appointment of Tengku Maimun shines a new light on Malaysia’s judiciary system. After all, a more diverse bench is essential for a fair and impartial judiciary,” Izzati explains.

Beyond that, there is also the fact that a woman in power can positively influence other women and girls. Representation matters, and when you see people who look like you occupying positions of power – whether it’s as the Chief Justice of Malaysia, a politician, the lead in an all-Asian Hollywood rom-com, a badass superhero, the captain of a starship – it makes you (and the rest of the world) realise that you and people like you can strive for similar achievements.

See also: 5 Things You May Not Have Known About Malaysia’s First Female Central Bank Governor

“It will hopefully inspire budding female judges and lawyers to strive for a career in the judiciary, knowing that the glass ceiling has been shattered. Little girls can now see a woman in the rows of portraits hung high, and say that they want to be like her when they grow up,” says Izzati.

“I hope that this appointment will allow women seeking justice in a male dominated system to face less stigma and have their journey to be less intimidating. Tengku Maimun’s appointment is not just a win for women representation, but also a win for Malaysians as it represents a more just and accessible legal system.”

(Feature image and infographic: Bernama)