2021 a momentous year for Malaysian judiciary – Historic decisions, high profle cases


KUALA LUMPUR – 2021 is truly a momentous year for the Malaysian judiciary, with the legal fraternity, locally and abroad, focused on the courts when several decisions, deemed as shocking, were made in historic and high-profile cases involving national leaders, including former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The court verdicts  that took centre stage included public interest cases on citizenship, Undi18, as well as money laundering, corruption, and criminal breach of trust (CBT) linked to prominent figures in the country.

On Dec 8, the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction and 12 years’ jail term and fine of RM210 million imposed  on Najib, 68, for misappropriating RM42 million in SRC International Sdn Bhd funds after dismissing his appeal to set aside the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s ruling on July 28, 2020.

On the very same day, the defence team filed an appeal at the Federal Court, which is their last avenue, against the verdict.

Justice Datuk Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil, leading a three-member bench comprising Justices Datuk Has Zanah Mehat and Datuk Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera, in a 308-page grounds of written judgment, ruled that Najib’s conduct in relation to the SRC International case cannot be said to have served the national interests as it had turned out to be a national embarrassment.

The most shocking historic decision was when the Kuching High Court in Sarawak, on Sept 3, ordered the Election Commission and the government to implement Undi18 by Dec 31.

Analysts described the decision as going to change the country’s political landscape with the presence of about 4 million new voters in the 15th General Election which is expected to take place after The second half of 2022.

The decision was handed down by Judicial Commissioner Alexander Siew How Wai  when allowing a judicial review application brought by five Malaysian youths, who are from Sarawak and aged between 18 and 20,  to seek immediate enforcement of an amendment in the Federal Constitution to lower the minimum voting age from 21 to 18.

In quashing the government’s and Election Commission”s (EC)  decision to defer implementation of the constitutional amendment. which includes Undi18 and automatic voter registration (AVR),  the court also ordered for all necessary steps to be taken for the constitutional amendment to come into operation as soon as possible and by December 31, 2021.

Subsequently, the Attorney-general’s Chambers released a Federal Government Gazette dated Dec 1 for implementation of Undi18 and AVR  to take effect on Dec 15.

Another historic decision was made on Sept 9, when High Court Judge Datuk Akhtar Tahir declared that children born overseas to Malaysian mothers who are married to foreigners are entitled by operation of law to be citizens of Malaysia.

Justice Akhtar ruled that Part II of the Second Schedule of the Federal Constitution must also mean and include mothers, hence, he made an order that all the relevant authorities must issue relevant documents, like identity cards, to six children in recognition of this effect.

The court made the ruling after allowing a legal suit filed by the Association of Family Support & Welfare Selangor & Kuala Lumpur (Family Frontiers) and six Malaysian women who are married to foreigners for their overseas-born children to have the right to become Malaysian citizens.

On Dec 22, the Court of Appeal dismissed applications by the Malaysian government, Home Minister and the National Registration Department (NRD) director-general  to stay  the ruling pending  their appeal which was set on March 23 next year.

Another high-profile case that caught the nation’s attention was on the murder of Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia (UPNM) cadet officer Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain.

On Nov 2, six UPNM’s student escaped the gallows, but were sentenced to 18 years jail by High Court judge Datuk Azman Abdullah after finding them guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to the murder of Zulfarhan Osman.

The judge, in his decision, said that the court found all the accused guilty under Section 304 (a) of the Penal Code for causing injuries to the Zulfarhan Osman with no intent to murder, an offence that carries a jail term of up to 30 years and shall also be liable to a fine, upon conviction.

The following day (Nov 3), Attorney-General Tan Sri Idrus Harun said the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) would appeal against the High Court’s ruling in convicting the six students of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Another case that made headlines was on a High Court decision on Feb 3 in sentencing former Felda chairman Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad to six years in jail and fine of RM15.45 million, in default 18 years’ jail, after finding him guilty of nine counts of corruption involving RM3 million over the agency’s purchase of Merdeka Palace Hotel & Suites (MPHS) in Kuching, Sarawak.

Not satisfied with the ruling, the former Negeri Sembilan menteri besar filed an appeal to the Court of Appeal  and submitted 40 grounds why he should be freed of the charges.

Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor’s graft case made headlines after the Appeals Court, on July 16, acquitted and discharged him of the charge after allowing the former Federal Territories Minister’s appeal to quash his conviction and sentence of 12-month jail and RM2 million fine.

Justice Datuk Suraya Othman, who read the 2-1 majority decision held that the RM2 million cheque that Tengku Adnan received from businessman Tan Sri Chai Kin Kong was a political donation to UMNO.

Another high-profile case that caught the nation’s attention  was on the acquittal of Pontian Member of Parliament Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan on charges of failing to declare RM2 million which he received from Najib to the Inland Revenue Board (IRB) and giving false statements to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

On Sept 29, High Court Judge Datuk Ahmad Shahrir Mohd Salleh ordered Ahmad to be freed after the prosecution informed the court that the prosecution was withdrawing the two charges after the accused paid a compound of RM1.1 million.

The MACC,  in a statement issued on the same day (Sept 29), stated that the RM1.1 million compound issued against Ahmad was a punitive act and a form of asset recovery under the country’s anti-money laundering law.

The same goes to UMNO legal advisor, Datuk Mohd Hafarizam Harun who was also freed from money laundering charges involving RM15 million, which he allegedly received from Najib, after the prosecution,   on July 30, informed the Sessions Court that  the prosecution was withdrawing all three money laundering charges against the lawyer, who agreed for the cases to be compounded amounting to RM590,587.26.

Another case that made headlines was on the death of French-Irish teenager Nora Anne Quoirin.

Nora, 15, from Balham, south London, went missing while on a family holiday at a resort in Seremban in August 2019. Her nude body was found 10 days later near a ravine, which is about 2.5 kilometres from the resort, following a massive search.

On June 16, Seremban High Court Judge Azizul Azmi Adnan substituted the Coroner’s Court verdict that Nora Anne Quoirin’s death was due to misadventure with an open verdict. An open verdict generally means that the cause of death could not be determined.

The court  made the ruling following an application by Nora’s family for a revision of the Coroner’s Court verdict.

Another case that made headlines was the rape case involving Tronoh Assemblyman Paul Yong Choo Kiong in Ipoh.

The Ipoh High Court on Dec 7 ordered Yong to enter his defence on a charge of raping his Indonesian maid  after finding that the prosecution had proved a prima facie case against him at the end of their case.

The court set Feb 15 and 16 next year for Yong’s defence trial.

Another high profile trial that also captured public attention was Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor’s case. She was ordered by the High Court to enter her defence on three corruption charges involving the solar hybrid project in Sarawak.

Rosmah, 70, who is the Najib’s wife, gave her statement from a witness stand for the first time on Oct 5.

Apart from that, on Dec 6, High Court Judge Datuk Collin Lawrence set Jan 24 for decision on whether former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi would be acquitted or to be ordered to enter his defence on 47 criminal breach of trust (CBT), corruption and money laundering charges involving Yayasan Akalbudi (YAB) funds.

The judge fixed the date after hearing the submissions that lasted for 24 days beginning Sept 6, 2021. The prosecution closed its case on March 19 after calling 99 witnesses.

Last but not least, was the case involving Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, who was charged at the e Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court  on July 22 with committing criminal breach of trust of funds belonging to a political party amounting to RM1 million and misusing RM120,000 in donations for the 14th general election (GE14) campaign.

On Aug 5, he was brought to the Johor Bahru Sessions Court to face two money laundering charges amounting to RM100,000. All the cases were ordered to be tried at the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

On Dec 14, the Sessions Court ordered former Sabah Infrastructure Development Minister Datuk Peter Anthony to enter his defence on a charge with falsifying a letter from the office of Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) Deputy Vice-Chancellor for a system maintenance contract work at the university in 2014.

Judge Azura Alwi made the decision after finding that the prosecution had succeeded in proving a prima facie case against Peter, 50, at the end of the prosecution case. The court fixed Jan 3 to 7 next year for the hearing.