(Petaling Jaya, Monday): The decision by Justice Augustine Paul to deny official observer status to local and foreign human rights and legal groups monitoring the trial of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on four charges of corruption is most unfortunate and risks giving Malaysia’s international image as well as that of the Malaysian judiciary a "black-eye".
Furthermore, it goes against past precedents in the Federal Court in according observer status to these organisations, such as in the trial of former Bar Council President Datuk Param Cumaraswamy and the DAP Deputy Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Guan Eng.
Anwar’s trial has aroused unprecedented national and international interest, and it is not helpful for Malaysia’s international image if a decision is taken which could only strengthen national and international concerns about Anwar’s trial.
The monitoring of trials by national and international human rights and legal groups has become an accepted international norm in the international society in recent times with the internationalisation of universal concerns over human rights, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, especially as the world has shrunk into a global village.
Justice Augustine Paul said the presence of observers would be an "insult" and amount to interference in the powers and functions of the court conferred by the constitution - which is at variance with the position taken by the Federal Court, which had not regarded the presence of foreign observers in the trial of Param Cumaraswamy and Lim Guan Eng as an "insult" or prejudicial to the exercise of its judicial powers.
The Malaysian court should keep abreast with the modern times when increasingly, there is a greater national and international demand for more openness and transparency in all institutions of government, including the judiciary.
The cause of justice and Malaysia’s international image would be better served by allowing local and foreign human rights and legal groups to monitor the trial as observers, especially as no conceivable harm could be caused by according them observer status.
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had expressed the government’s opposition to the granting of observer status to foreign representatives on the ground that "this would impose undue pressure on the court".
Mahathir further said that their reason for attending the trial was not because they were interested in whether Anwar was guilty or not, but to put the Government and the court on trial.
This is however the view of one person, however exalted his position even as the Prime Minister of the land.
The court should decide on its own, without reference to the views of the Prime Minister and the government, as to how justice is best served in the circumstances where there is unprecedented national and international interest over Anwar’s trial.
Justice Augustine Paul should reconsider his decision to deny official observer status to local and foreign human rights and legal groups, like the Bar Council, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Justice International, Indonesia’s Legal Aid Bureau as well as representatives from foreign governments and the Philippines Congress, and send out a clear message that the Malaysian judiciary is prepared to face national and international scrutiny in its proceedings and that it upholds the judicial maxim that "Justice must not only be done, but is seen to be done".