Prime minister designate Anwar Ibrahim has struck a note of conciliation by saying he does not want to go after judges who have been found to have wrongly convicted him and then came up with a record jail sentence to boot.
The miscarriage of justice against him was plainly caught up in politics and he has chosen rather to demand investigation into the key agent in the affair, prosecuting lawyer Shafee Abdullah, who had long acted as Najib Razak’s personal legal advisor.
Stating that he was working for free in the public interest, Shafee was unusually swapped into the position of public prosecutor in the case, which he conducted with gusto, over-turning a High Court acquittal on appeal, in order to slam his boss’s political enemy into jail.
It was later revealed (first through Sarawak Report) that Shafee received RM9.5 million in payments from Najib’s accounts out of money diverted from the fund 1MDB. It is this matter that Anwar would like to concentrate on, since Shafee has yet to explain the money and why it was paid to him.
However, many are also concerned that the judiciary has shown many signs of being tainted over recent years and that Anwar’s magnanimous stance ought not preclude a thorough examination of such matters. Sadly, few of Malaysia’s institutions escaped a deeply embedded corruption that filtered from the top down and those responsible should be removed.
Reforms are best implemented when there is a proper understanding of what went wrong and why.
One campaigning lawyer, Arun Kasi, is arguing for a Royal Commission of Enquiry to fully investigate concerns about undue political influence and manipulation of the judiciary and has even gone so far as to suggest the Federal Court be suspended pending its outcome. Citing the sedition case against Karpal Singh as one of many troubling cases with far-reaching consequences he says:
In Karpal’s sedition case, the High Court first acquitted Karpal without a defence case being called by reason of the prosecution failing to prove a prima facie case. The prosecution appealed to the Court of Appeal…… [which] reversed the decision of the High Court and remitted the case back to call defence case…
At the second round, the High Court convicted Karpal. On appeal againt the conviction, the Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction by a majority of 2:1…. The complaint made by Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla was that a “senior judge” meddled with the majority decision…
A negative perception over the second appeal may also extend to the first appeal, in which the Court of Appeal ordered the defence case to be called. That is particularly so, looking at the wide definition for sedition given by the Court of Appeal. This decision in effect brought the freedom of speech within a very narrow boundary in Malaysia. Many politicians, after this decision, were charged and convicted for sedition.
The dangers of a non-independent judiciary or at least the perception of a non-independent judiciary are therefore clear to see and contributed to a pervasive sense of hopelessness and mistrust that beset Malaysia before GE14.
A commission of enquiry would therefore seem to be a crucial step, to be preceded only by the immediate repeal of oppressive laws, such as SOSMA, an un-fulfilled promise that is becoming a major embarrassment for the Harapan administration.