Gani Patail fuelling worst crisis of confidence in nation’s history over the role and powers of Attorney-General as a result of his silence over escalating controversy over non-prosecution of Ibrahim Ali on one hand and sedition blitzkrieg to create climate of fear on the other
The Attorney-General Tan Sri Gani Patail is fuelling the worst crisis of confidence in the nation’s history over the role and powers of the Attorney-General (AG) as a result of his silence over the escalating controversy over non-prosecution of Perkasa President Ibrahim Ali for his threat to burn the Malay-language Bible on the one hand and the sedition blitzkrieg against scores of Malaysians who did not make incendiary statements to create a climate of fear on the other.
This is because the continued absence of satisfactory accountability and acceptable explanation that there have been no arbitrary abuse of the AG’s prosecutorial discretion as highlighted by the decision not to prosecute Ibrahim Ali despite the threat to burn the Malay-language Bible and the mass sedition blitzkrieg have raised serious questions whether the Attorney-General is committed to uphold the Rule of Law and to act as guardian of the public interest.
Gani’s predecessors as Attorney-General, Tan Sri Abu Talib from 1980 to 1993 and Tan Sri Mokhtar Abdullah (1994 – 2000) had their controversies when they served under the country’s most controversial Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir but Gani Patail had put both Talib and Mokhtar in the shade both in the volume and gravity of controversies since becoming AG in 2002.
Gani has gained another distinction of having been criticized by his predecessor, as last month Talib excoriated Gani Patail for undertaking to review the sedition cases against Pakatan Rakyat leaders, academicians and social activists like Prof Dr. Azmi Sharom after the charges were framed, as the barrage of sedition charges came across as “persecution” and not “prosecution”.
As the former AG said:
“To charge a person is a very serious matter at it affects the accused’s credibility, standing and dignity.
“It will put the accused in an emotional turmoil. Even, if the prosecution withdraws the charge later, the damage is done.”
The former A-G said during his tenure, he only consented to charges being framed if there was “90% evidence to secure conviction”.
He said charges were also framed based on applicable law, fairness and public interest consideration without influence by a third party.
Talib said Gani’s statement that he would review the charges only gave the impression the decision to charge the accused was made without careful and serious consideration of all the available facts.
“Is he (Gani) admitting that he was not fair and transparent when the accused were first charged, and that is why he is reviewing the cases now? Maybe he should clarify.”
Gani had not only failed to clarify, but had allowed the “white terror” regime of sedition investigations and prosecutions to continue unabated – even pressing for the continuation of sedition trials despite Azmi’s successful application on Oct. 13 to challenge the constitutionality of the Sedition Act in the High Court, an outcome which would affect all sedition cases.
It is now seven weeks since Gani responded on Sept 9 to massive public outrage at the sedition blitzkrieg, announcing that the AG’s Chambers would review the sedition charges against Azmi and others, but nothing has been forthcoming on the outcome of this review, or whether such a review had taken place.
Do the Prime Minister or the de facto law Minister Nancy Shukri know anything about this review of the sedition charges by the AG’s Chambers, or are they completely in the dark as they are unable to demand any accountability from the AG’s Chambers apart from reading their prepared answers in Parliament?
The present status quo of opaqueness from public and parliamentary accountability of the Attorney-General and his Chambers is not maintainable in a modern democratic country committed to accountability and good governance principles – and MPs and Malaysians must demand the AG’s Chambers submit to public and parliamentary scrutiny for accountability.
For instance, MPs and the Malaysian public are entitled to know whether in the exercise of the prosecutorial discretion on the basis of ‘public interest’, are these purely legal considerations or they also involve “political” considerations, and if so, the nature of these “political” considerations.
The letter today by the Court of Appeal Judge, K.C.Vohrah on “Doubt in the administration of justice” (Star October 23, 2014) express the legitimate nagging concerns in many minds.
“I had been with the A-G Chambers for 16 years in the 70s and early 80s and the protocol for dealing with parliamentary questions was strict. An answer had to go through many layers of scrutiny and approval before being sanctioned by the A-G for release. What has happened to the strict procedure in the A-G Chambers?
“Admittedly the A-G Chambers in my days was, and more so now is, never idle as the volume of problems that come to the chambers for legal opinion is enormous.
“But in matters relating to parliamentary questions, truthful and accurate statements of law are expected in the august body of Parliament as the A-G is the ultimate adviser of the government in legal matters.
“There needs to be a re-think probably of the protocol relating to answers to parliamentary questions especially in criminal law matters, and the decision on the law should be for the A-G Chambers and nobody else, except for the courts.”
Vohrah said the AG’s prosecutorial discretion under Article 145(3) of the Constitution to institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings for an offence is “an awesome power which has to be exercised bona fide and with great professionalism and care.”
He continued: “And any perception that the A-G when exercising such powers, is biased, selective or acts under ministerial pressure or pressure from any group will bring disrepute to the office of the A-G and cause grave misgivings as to the fair administration of the legal system. And when mistrust arises in regard to the exercise of such powers it would be to the discredit of the Government.”
Vohrah called for the review and withdrawal of cases where persons have already been charged based on three considerations:
(1) The Sedition Act is an oppressive law and that many jurists and scholars consider sedition (based on common law seditious libel) as obsolete. Seditious libel came during a period when the divine right of rulers was not only accepted but believed to be necessary; rulers who dispensed laws were above questions and criticism of rulers was considered sinful as well as unlawful.
(2) That once a person is charged for an offence under the Act, looking at the state of case law in Malaysia, there is no defence that can normally be taken for offences, say, under the Penal Code or other acts creating offences. So it appears there can be no defence even of truth, lack of intention, presence of an innocent or honourable intention, absence of consequent harm, or even a lack of possibility or potential for consequent harm. Prove the utterance of words as “seditious” (defined circularly and widely) and there is no defence to the utterance. Very oppressive in the 21st century. And to think this is the law in Malaysia, a democratic country.
(3) That the A-G before exercising his discretion whether to charge a person for sedition must ignore pressure from any quarter, political or otherwise, the noisy and the cantankerous, and the well-meaning and well-intentioned groups (who have not seen the oppressive implications of the law), and focus on whether it is reasonable to charge such a person in the context of all relevant circumstances in an age of “disagreement in ideas and belief on every conceivable subject” which are the essence of our life in modern Malaysia pushing on for developed status in 2020.
Will Gani Patail heed the voice of reason and sanity of an eminent Malaysian jurist, speaking for the overwhelming majority of thinking and reasoned Malaysians?