Abuse of Power: Selected Works on the Law and Constitution is a wide-ranging collection of essays by Tommy Thomas that challenging questions about the use and abuse of power. Among the themes running through the essays, three stand out—constitutionalism, human rights, and the independence of the judiciary. The essays are nested in the historical and cultural context of Malaysia, but their import spreads much more widely. For example, the author examines the notion that there is an East/West dichotomy in human rights and that human rights are primarily relevant to western countries; he demonstrates that this is not so, and castigates the notion as a false dichotomy.
The author traces the role and the fate of human rights in the 1960s and 1970s, charting the struggle against the wider use of emergency powers and the erosion of human rights protections in favour of greater executive control. The record of the judiciary in those decades and subsequently is closely examined—lapses from judicial ethics are criticized, whereas assertions of the independence of the judiciary from the executive are applauded.
Thought-provoking and sometimes controversial these essays are, but none of this is to suggest that this is a negative work, for the author is careful to propose principled solutions based on scholarly distillation of writings from countries such as the United States, India, and the United Kingdom. If a legal system is to protect human rights and to command the confidence of the legal profession and the public, the important pointers in this stimulating book must be heeded.