Prosecution of Matthias sends chilling message, court told

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PUTRAJAYA: The Malaysian Bar Council today brought to the attention of the court that some 18,000 lawyers will hesitate to represent their clients without fear of favour if counsel are harassed by the authorities.

Senior lawyer Tommy Thomas told the Court of Appeal that the Federal Constitution, the Legal Profession Act and Bar Council Etiquette Rules allowed counsel to accept cases, however unpopular their clients were.

“But they cannot be open to criminal prosecution as this will have a chilling effect on them,” Tommy said.

He said one of the objectives of the Malaysian Bar was to uphold the cause of justice without regard to its own interests or that of its members, uninfluenced by fear or favour.

He was addressing the court on behalf of the Bar Council in the government’s appeal to deny bail to 1MDB critics Khairuddin Abu Hassan and his lawyer Matthias Chang.

Both are charged with sabotaging the nation’s banking and financial services following reports made against 1MDB with authorities in France, Hong Kong, Singapore, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

The government is of the view that the charge under the Penal Code is a security offence and the two should remain in custody pending the outcome of their trial.

Today, the Court of Appeal affirmed the High Court ruling that it was not a security offence and that the two were entitled to be free on bail.

Tommy said lawyers handling criminal cases sometimes drafted police reports and accompanied their clients to police stations to lodge complaints.

“This is their bread and butter of legal practice but these acts cannot be an offence,” he said in reference to Matthias’ arrest on Oct 8 last year and the subsequent charge levelled against him four days later.

Matthias had accompanied Khairuddin to lodge complaints with local and foreign investigation and prosecution agencies on 1MDB.

Tommy said 1MDB was a white collar crime and Matthias was merely performing his professional duty.

He also told the bench that Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria in a Federal Court ruling in 2012 had ruled that the public must be encouraged to make reports for the purpose of investigation.

“Police reports are absolutely privileged documents and no lawyer should suffer a criminal consequence,” he said.

Tommy said Arifin had also stated in the judgment that victims had remedy as action could be taken against those making false police reports.