March 5, 2019
The recent news of Arun Kasi, a Malaysian lawyer facing contempt charges for allegedly scandalising the judiciary in relation to 2 articles he wrote on Aliran- a news website covering issues of social importance, should come as a jolt at the heart of civil society.
The 2 articles- titled ‘How a dissenting judgment sparked a major judicial crisis’ and ‘Tommy Thomas must look into arbitration centre that sparked judicial crisis’ prompted Tommy Thomas, the Attorney General of Malaysia to institute committal proceedings in the Federal Court of Malaysia against Arun on 27th February 2019. Leave was granted by the Federal Court and the substantive hearing has been fixed for 13th March 2019 on an urgent basis.
In my view, the AG ought to reconsider his view to initiate contempt proceedings against Arun for the following reasons:
- The Proceedings represent an incursion into the independence of the Bar and impedes professional advocacy
Arun’s articles were written in the context of an expunction order made by the Federal Court, by which various constitutional observations made by a Court of Appeal judge in relation to an institution playing a role in administration of justice and also a direction made by the judge to the anti-corruption commission to investigate the matter were expunged. This case raises issues of serious public interest and importance, and the proceedings initiated against Arun for bringing these issues to the attention of the public seriously threatens the independence of the Bar and impedes professional advocacy.
Further, the UN Basic Principles on the Roles of Lawyers (“UNBRPL”) contains several provisions that explicitly deal with the independence of lawyers. Principle 16 of the UNBRPL sets out that the Government must: ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their duties without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference… (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics. Principle 23 grants lawyers the right to take part in public discussion on matters of the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights.