What Mahathir wants is an Anti-Karpal Act rather than a  Contempt of Court Act to protect independent and courageous lawyers from abuse of discretionary powers of judges

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Monday):  The explanation  by the Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar in Kota Tinggi yesterday why an Act pertaining to contempt of court is necessary has confirmed my belief as to the reason why the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has undergone a sudden conversion and now agrees with the Bar Council on the need for a Contempt of Court Act.

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.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong