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Sunday, July 31, 2022

Of past AGs and their present problems

 

This past week has been a very interesting one for Malaysia’s attorneys-general, current or past. It was great for kopitiam lawyers like me, too, who treat the law with a mixture of awe, incomprehension and dread.

Like many others, I mask these feelings by sneering at lawyers and joking about them savagely behind their backs so they won’t hear the jokes and insults and perhaps issue an injunction or two and sue me.

The legal stories this week were not the usual one of yet another politician suing yet another politician for causing umbrage and spreading odium on their character and reputation, or this being about politicians, the lack of.

A high court judgment came out in a case where ex-attorney-general Mohamed Apandi bin Ali sued the prominent opposition politician Lim Kit Siang for publishing some nasty stuff about him.

By the way, in case any of you are offended, I referred to the ex-AG by his bare name without acknowledging his titles and awards; in my defence I plead that such is how he’s referred to in the said court judgment.

It seems in court you leave your titles behind, and enter, and maybe leave, with the name your parents gave you. What a cool concept – equality before the law! I think we should apply that to every aspect of our lives too, if that’s OK with Tan Sri/Puan Sri, Datuk Seri/Datin Seri, Datuk-Datuk/Datin-Datin…

Based on this alone I may want to go and sue the most storied and titled Malaysian around, and watch all those titles being stripped away and him being left in court, if he’s a Malay, as Si Anu Bin Si Polan versus Adzhar Bin Ibrahim. Would be nice if I could win and be awarded costs too.

Basically, the case is of Mohamed Apandi bin Ali suing Lim Kit Siang for salamandering him as a slippery lizard, or something like that. Mohamed Apandi bin Ali threw everything but the kitchen sink at Lim Kit Siang, while Lim Kit Siang threw back everything including the kitchen sink too.

The kitchen sink was a hit. Judge Azimah binti Omar wrote a hundred pages of judgment quoting precedents and testimony, some in excruciating detail. She quoted important cases from the British courts, revealing a colonialist mindset, but also many from Malaysian courts too.

The landscape of her judgment was fantastical and fabled, with evocative Latin words jostling with mere English and Malay ones, plaintiffs and defendants torting each other, and soaring oratory competing with wildebeests galloping across the horizon.

Sorry, got carried away there. What did happen is that Azimah binti Omar (the judge) said Lim Kit Siang (the sued) had managed to prove that his comments, which supposedly impugned Mohamed Apandi bin Ali (the suer), were justified and also came under qualified privilege, even if not, on technical grounds, fair comment.

I was surprised the “Malu Apa Bossku” defence – which says somebody can’t be shamed and humiliated if he (any reference to the male gender also includes the female gender) is already bereft of shame – which works well in the court of social media, hasn’t quite reached the courts of law yet.

Azimah binti Omar ticked off some aspects of Mohamed Apandi bin Ali’s conduct, character and integrity. It’s all there in black and white, albeit often in undecipherable words – can somebody explain what consanguineous means? My computer crashed when I searched for its meaning.

The judgement has what Malaysians love – somebody getting a whacking!

The Malaysian attorney-general is so powerful he’s literally above the law, his actions being beyond challenge and review, with many people having felt the sharp end of it, so it was that schadenfreude enjoyed a field day.

While it’s nice to be that powerful and non-justiciable (another new word!), it doesn’t mean people can’t say snarky things about you, as long as they’re justified in saying so, as agreed to by the court in this case.

The real powerful person here is the judge, who can say harsh things about your character or integrity, often quoting your own words against you! I want to become a judge when I grow up, though perhaps my daughters are more qualified given, that so many of the cool judges are women.

Azimah binti Omar’s judgment makes for fascinating reading, even if I only understand one word out of three. Being a typical kaypo Malaysian, I enjoyed reading all the titillating details, especially in such exquisite language. You should read it for yourself, or the news report thereof.

Then there’s also the ex-attorney-general Tommy Thomas, who wrote a lengthy article  regarding the arbitration judgement against Malaysia won by the heirs of the Sulu sultanate. It reads like a historical crime thriller, with the lawyers being the bad guys, which suits us just fine.

His recounting of the matter seems fair and balanced, with nobody getting whacked (darn….) except for the foreign lawyers. It seems we weaselled out of paying the Sulu heirs the measly sum of RM5,300 per year as a price for getting Sabah in perpetuity.

It boggles the mind that the Sultan of Sulu didn’t build in a mechanism to account for inflation and currency exchange swings in his contract! 5,300 ringgit may have been big, back then, but it’s hardly enough now to buy a gaudy shirt for a local politician. He should have sued his own attorney- general for this.

So, we literally took the shirt off their backs, which obviously irritated them mightily. The Sulu royals shopped around in Europe for a favourable arbitrator who’d give them the decision they sought. Shopping in Europe is of course a favourite pastime of royals.

The Malaysian government has formed a task force, which is their usual go-to reaction to anything that doesn’t seem to be solvable by giving subsidies, invoking Keluarga Malaysia, hopping parties or insulting women.

Tommy Thomas thinks it’s not necessary to form a task force to fight this relatively straight-forward matter. He feels the current attorney-general can handle this without a bunch of politicians prancing around fighting jihad and spending public money on overseas trips.

He’s also quite magnanimous to some of the Malaysian characters involved, some of whom are more accountable than others, even if they may be pathological liars incapable of accepting any responsibility or blame.

So just in the space of one week, Malaysia’s attorneys-general have been in the limelight, showing different personalities and character and integrity or, in one case, the lack of.

In the meantime, we can only hope the current attorney-general will finish off this Sulu matter in Malaysia’s favour as soon as possible, so that the Sulu royals can go back to selling cut-price datukships to Malaysians, which appears to be their core business.

But I do wonder – what’s the point of having a datukship from whomever if you are bereft of it in a court of law under this “equal under the law” principle that apparently is part of our legal system?

Caveat Emptor. That’s French, meaning potential buyers of Sulu datukships need to be aware of such risks, and perhaps shop locally for their titles instead. - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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