However, the government’s reason for wanting to have a Contempt of Court Act is totally at variance with that of the Bar Council and the contempt of court legislaton the government has in mind is a completely different creature from that intended by the Bar Council.
For the past few years, the legal community had been very concerned by the increasing erosion of traditional safeguards of legal practice after a couple of lawyers were ordered to be jailed for contempt of court.
It was in recognition of the importance of an independent and courageous legal profession in a democratic society and the principle that lawyers must be able to act fearlessly for their clients that the Bar Council submitted a draft Contempt of Court Act to the Prime Minister in August this year to codify contempt law to ensure clarity and certainty and to remove the discretionary powers of judges.
But Mahathir is not concerned about the need for a specific law to protect lawyers against the discretionary powers of judges and the concerns of the legal community about erosion of the traditional safeguards for an independent and courageous Bar.
Mahathir is embracing a Contempt of Court Act simply because of his frustration that he could not "fix" Karpal Singh, as counsel for Anwar Ibrahim, although he had announced on his return from his overseas trip on Wednesday that the government would take action against Karpal for his "libellous statement" in the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Sept. 10 in connection with Anwar’s arsenic poisoning. But Mahathir found instead that by making his threat to take action against Karpal, he was in fact committing a contempt of court himself!
What Mahathir wants is an Anti-Karpal Act and not a Contempt of Court Act to protect independent and courageous lawyers from abuse of discretionary powers of judges.
Hamid made this very clear when he said that the formulation of the Contempt of Court Act was crucial as there were lawyers who abused their profession by using the court as a platform for politicking.
He said: "The Government's move to look into the drafting of an Act specifically for contempt of court should be supported so that the rakyat would not be confused between a court case and a political issue (raised in court)."
From Hamid’s remark, it is possible that the Contempt of Court Act that would be presented by the government would afford no protection whatsoever to lawyers from abuses of discretionary powers of judges, but will only focus on how action could be taken against independent and courageous lawyers who dare to act fearlessly in defence of their clients.
Hamid claimed that the trial of former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was being conducted according to legal procedures and the Malaysian Constitution at the discretion of the Attorney-General and that it was not a "political case".
Hamid is being very naïve if he wants Malaysians to believe that Anwar’s trial is not a political trial. In fact the whole world knows that Anwar’s trials are the political trials of the century in Malaysia. This is why Malaysia is undergoing the worst crisis of confidence in the system of justice in Malaysia in the nation’s history - where law is completely divorced from justice!
It would be most unfortunate if laws are enacted just because the Prime Minister wants to carry out a vendetta against anyone.
The way contempt of court powers had been exercised in Malaysia have brought considerable national and international disrepute to the country, undermining the ability of lawyers to discharge their duties in the administration of justice as well as exposing the Barisan Nasional government’s lack of commitment to protect and promote the fundamental liberties of freedom of expression and a free press.
Today, for instance, Canadian journalist Murray Hiebert walked out of the Seremban Prison after serving one month’s jail sentence, making him the first journalist in Malaysia and the first case in any Commonwealth country in the past fifty years to be jailed for contempt of court for what he had written.
Malaysia’s international reputation had suffered grievous damage as a result of the Murray Hiebert imprisonment, which could not be made up by having the world’s tallest building or splurging hundreds of millions of ringgit to organise the Formua One Grand Prix race.
There should be the fullest consultation with the Bar Council and the civil society in the process to enact a Contempt of Court Act in Malaysia so that it would not be seen as another instrument of oppression by the Barisan Nasional government against the Opposition and dissent, whether in the fields of freedom of speech, free press or even in the conduct of court proceedings.