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LETTER | Chief Justice, the Queen's Counsel must be rejected

LETTER | The Right Honorable Chief Justice of Malaysia, Yang Amat Arif Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat.

It is with grave concern that I decided to write this open letter after reading that a United Kingdom-based lawyer, Queen’s Counsel (QC) Jonathan James Laidlaw, will be engaged to be the lead counsel in disgraced former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak’s appeal.

Allow me to elaborate.

We all know that since the 1MDB scandal was brought into the broad daylight, the world is keenly watching the several corruption cases involving Najib, his wife, Rosmah Mansor and a former deputy prime minister.

In particular, the 1MDB-related cases are of immense interest to potential investors who have to appraise the strength of our judiciary.

As a concerned rakyat of this country, we are also watching to see how the country’s apex court will decide on Najib’s SRC International case, where the former prime minister has already been found guilty at the High Court. His appeal was also subsequently rejected by the Court of Appeal.

In the eyes of the ordinary rakyat, the evidence produced by the prosecution is very convincing; but, if for some reason, the decision is overturned because of some even very minor technical reasons, this would do a great injustice to both the judiciary and the legal fraternity in the country.

The prosecution was also led by a former federal judge with many years of experience in the country’s justice system, whose great competence cannot be compared to Laidlaw’s own experience with the laws of the land.

Laidlaw’s appointment would undoubtedly delay the decision of the apex court.

Precedence set

We have become an independent sovereign nation since 1957. Although we are modelled after the Westminster system of government, there can be no interference from the United Kingdom in the way the country is run.

For example, no member of Parliament from the United Kingdom can be invited to appear in a parliamentary debate without being rejected by the Dewan Speaker.

Hence, I see no reason why a Queen’s Counsel can be appointed to appear before the apex court of this country, especially since the precedence has been set by the dismissal of the application by another Queen’s Counsel, Cherie Booth, who “once applied for an ad hoc admission to the Malaysian Bar pursuant to section 18(1) of the Legal Profession Act 1976 (LPA) for the purpose of appearing in two Federal Court appeals.”

The Bar Council objected to the application. Although the High Court dismissed her application, she exercised her right under section 19 LPA, and appealed directly to the Federal Court.

In a unanimous decision, the Federal Court dismissed her appeal, reasoning that the onus was on her to show that she had special qualifications or experience of a nature not available among advocates and solicitors in Malaysia.

To therefore claim that Laidlaw “possesses special qualifications, experience and expertise which is not available amongst advocates and solicitors in Malaysia” is not only an insult to the legal fraternity but it is a question of the subjectivity of what one considers as special qualifications.

SRC case at its final stage

What most Malaysians are concerned about is whether justice will ultimately be served upon the perpetrators behind the 1MDB sovereign wealth fund scandal.

We do not want to see the people behind the scandal being set free and boasting that he is not ashamed or did not steal the country’s funds.

Every man or woman on the street whom I meet has expressed disgust why Najib is still allowed to go about in life freely.

Till today, the infamous Low Taek Jho (Jho Low) is still scot-free, although Goldman Sachs’ former investment managing director, Roger Ng Chong Hwa has been convicted by a US court.

Currently, subjected to a curfew, Ng may be sentenced to decades in prison, according to a CNBC report.

As the 1MDB scandal has involved billions of dollars of borrowed funds, the country is now having to service the loans at least for the next one or two generations.

For this reason, Malaysians have every reason to be concerned, if the perpetrators are let off without punishment.

Therefore, allowing a Queen’s Counsel to lead in Najib’s appeal case would not bode well with the sentiments of the people.

After all, the case has already reached the final stage at Your Ladyship’s bench; and even if a Queen’s Counsel were to be desired, Laidlaw should have been brought in right from the beginning of the trial.

Even with that, Your Ladyship, I wish to bring to your attention the precedence set by the High Court and Federal Court on Booth QC’s application.

Justice inequality

By admitting the Queen’s Counsel into our judiciary system, Your Ladyship would be sending a wrong message to the country, that those with deep pockets are able to exploit the judiciary, while the poor who can ill-afford even a lawyer will always receive the brunt of the law.

In the case of Najib, he still owes the Inland Revenue Board (IRB) a total of RM1.69 billion after the High Court on July 22, 2020 ruled that Najib “had to pay the IRB RM1.69 billion in additional tax and penalties for the assessment years from 2011 to 2017 after allowing the IRB’s application to enter a summary judgment against him.”

Najib should pay the amount owed before he is even allowed to hire a Queen’s Counsel or leave the country, even if it was only to Singapore. He is no one any more special than the ordinary taxpayer.

Finally, if I may put it rhetorically, in order for us to be consistent with the new policy on the use of Bahasa Melayu in the civil service, which now includes even international meetings, the courts should never admit any legal practitioner, whether Queen’s Counsel or otherwise, who does not speak the language.

If former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim did not engage a Queen’s Counsel for his two court cases, there is no reason why now, Najib’s attempt to hire the Queen’s Counsel becomes the talk of the town.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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