Comments By Isham Jalil Was An Insult To Judiciary Or Right To Free Speech?

While the High Court granted leave for the AG to initiate contempt of court proceeding against Isham Jalil, his lawyer, Tan Sri Azhar argued that his client is entitled to Freedom Of Speech

KUALA LUMPUR : The High Court has granted leave for the Attorney General (AG) to initiate contempt of court proceedings against former Umno Supreme Council (MT) member, Hizatul Isham Abdul Jalil or better known as Isham Jalil.

Judge Datuk Noorin Badaruddin granted leave following submissions from the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) and Isham’s counsel, former Dewan Rakyat speaker Tan Sri Azhar Azizan Harun today.

Isham appeared in court today over his allegedly contemptuous comments related to former premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s court cases namely the now concluded SRC International trial and the on-going 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) case.

Public Forum

If he is found guilty, the 47-year-old who was removed as a Supreme council and Umno member last December, could face jail time or a fine over his comments made during a public forum entitled “Townhall for Justice: Keadilan Sebenarnya Untuk Siapa”. The comments were published on the Facebook page of “The Malaya Post” on Sept 30 last year.

In an affidavit filed in support of the leave application, Mustaffa claimed that Isham had during the forum commented on Najib’s 1MDB and SRC International trials, and the Federal Court’s conduct of the final appeal in the latter case.

Isham is also alleged to have accused Justices Collin Lawrence Sequerah and Nazlan Ghazali, who presided over the 1MDB and SRC International trials respectively, of bias and said they ought to have withdrawn from hearing the cases.

Representing the AG, deputy public prosecutor (DPP) Mohamad Mustaffa P Kunyalam argued that when the facts and context of Isham’s statements are taken into consideration, it posed a real risk of undermining the public confidence in the administration of justice.

Freedom of Speech

Isham’s counsel, Azhar argued that his client is entitled to freedom of speech and whether his comments constitute contempt is arguable as Isham did not commit any contempt inside of the courtroom, per se.

Mustaffa countered that freedom of speech, enshrined in the Federal Constitution, was a right accorded to everyone but the comments need to be within “reasonable courtesy and good faith”. He cited academic discussions as an example of acceptable comments but noted that Isham was “basically ridiculing the judiciary, arguing that the judges were biased”.

Isham Jalil Alleged To Have Criticised Judges

Isham had among others, allegedly criticised the SRC trial’s presiding judge Datuk Nazlan Mohd Ghazali’s former employment at Maybank where he served as general counsel of Maybank Investment Bank Bhd and had advised the bank over matters concerning 1MDB.

Isham had also commented on 1MDB presiding judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah decision in dismissing an application by the defence to recuse himself from the trial, which he is now presiding for the sixth year. The defence made the application to recuse the now Court of Appeal judge on the grounds that he was a partner in a law firm with former 1MDB counsel Jasmine Loo more than a decade ago. Jasmine is now the star witness for the prosecution in the ongoing case.

Sequerah dismissed the application last Aug on the grounds that Najib had failed to prove that there is a real danger of bias. Najib is appealing this decision.

Court has set March 23 as the next case management date. – NMH

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