When AG was in the dock for contempt in 1998
Published:  Apr 24, 2019 9:28 AM
Updated: 11:14 AM

Much to the chagrin of the legal fraternity, the Federal Court yesterday imposed a 30-day prison sentence and RM40,000 fine on lawyer Arun Kasi for contempt of court. It also dismissed his application for a stay of execution of the ruling.

In delivering the sentence, Justice Ramly Ali, who led a five-member panel, cited Arun's refusal to tender an unreserved apology for his remarks.

Attorney-General Tommy Thomas had initiated the contempt proceedings on the grounds that Arun's online articles scandalised judges of the Federal Court.

Ironically, Thomas was in Arun's shoes more than two decades ago.

In 1998, then High Court judge RK Nathan had convicted Thomas for contempt and sentenced the latter to six months in jail.

This was over Thomas' comment regarding the settlement of the defamation suits filed against him and law firm Skrine & Co by business tycoon Vincent Tan, his companies and his lawyer VK Lingam.

The defamation suits were over an article in London-based trade magazine International Commercial Litigation, in which Thomas is alleged to have said that certain plaintiffs and their lawyers enjoyed improper preferential treatment in the courts.

The article also questioned the independence of the judiciary, especially in cases involving influential businesses.

In his judgment, Nathan (photo) found Thomas' statement to have insulted the court and a repudiation of a settlement agreement in a libel case.

In the statement which the judge found offensive, Thomas had said he had not been consulted adequately by his insurers about the decision to settle and that the settlement was insisted upon by the insurer despite his objections.

Despite Thomas retracting the statement, expressing regret and apologising to the court, Nathan slapped him with the six-month sentence.

In 2001, The Court of Appeal substituted the jail sentence with an RM10,000 fine, with one of the three judges giving a dissenting opinion. 

The court also granted Thomas a stay of execution pending his appeal to the Federal Court.

The dissenting judge was Gopal Sri Ram, who held that the appeal must be allowed, as the conviction against Thomas "destroys the freedom of thought and speech."

Fast forward to 2019, the Attorney-General's Chambers has appointed Sri Ram (photo) as the lead prosecutor for the 1MDB-related charges against former premier Najib Abdul Razak.

Among those who criticised the sentence meted out to Arun was Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) executive director Latheefa Koya, who asked if he was a soft target.

She pointed out that the same issue which landed Arun in trouble was raised by Court of Appeal judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer in his explosive affidavit alleging judicial misconduct, which led Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to announce the formation royal commission of inquiry into the matter. 

Arun's offending statements were in relation to the Federal Court expunging a dissenting judgment by Hamid in the case of Leap Modulation Sdn Bhd vs PCP Construction Sdn Bhd.

The lawyer had previously asserted that his comments constituted fair criticism.

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