THE Right Honourable Chief Justice of Malaysia, Yang Amat Arif Tengku Maimun, it is with grave concern that I decided to write this open letter after reading that a UK-based lawyer, Queen’s Counsel (QC) Jonathan James Laidlaw, will be engaged to be the lead counsel in disgraced former Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak’s appeal.
Allow me to elaborate.
We all know that since the 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Bhd) scandal was brought into the broad daylight, the world is watching keenly on the several corruption cases involving Najib, his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor and a former deputy PM.
In particular, the 1MDB-related cases are of immense interest to potential investors who have to appraise the strength of our judiciary system.
As concerned rakyat of this country, we are also watching to see how the country’s apex court will decide on Najib’s SRC International Sdn Bhd case, where the former PM 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 reasons, 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 judiciary 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.
Malaysia has become an independent sovereign nation since 1957. Although Malaysia is modelled after the Westminster’s system of government, there can be no interference from the UK in the way the country is run.
For example, no MP from the UK could be invited to appear in a parliamentary debate without being rejected by the Dewan Speaker.
Hence, I see no reason why a QC 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 QC, 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 had objected to the application. Although the High Court had 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 amongst advocates and solicitors in Malaysia.
To therefore claim that Laidlaw “possess(es) special qualifications, experience and expertise which is not available” is not only an insult to the legal fraternity, but it is a question of subjectivity of what one considers as “special qualifications”.
Najib’s 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 stolen 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 is still scot-free, although Goldman Sachs’ former investment MD 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; and for this reason, Malaysians have every reason to be concerned, if the perpetrators are let off without the punishment.
Therefore, by allowing a QC 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 QC were to be desired, Laidlaw should have been brought in right from the beginning during 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.
By admitting the QC into our judiciary system, Your Ladyship would be sending a wrong message to the country, that those with deep pockets would be able to exploit the judiciary system, while the poor who can ill-afford even a lawyer would always be the ones to 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, 202,0 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 up the amount owed before he is even allowed to hire a QC 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 QC or otherwise, who does not speak the language.
If former deputy PM Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim did not engage QC for his two court cases, there is no reason why now Najib’s attempt to hire the QC becomes the talk of the town. — by STEPHEN NG
- Stephen Ng @ Ng Eng Joo
- Wangsa Permai
- Kuala Lumpur