Bar: Be fair to all parties in cases dealing with EC

George-Varughese

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Bar has called on the judiciary to ensure that all cases dealing with challenges to the Election Commission (EC) are conducted with the utmost transparency and integrity.

Recent reports that the chief justice of Malaysia had ordered the hearing of two legal challenges against the EC in relation to the ongoing electoral redelineation exercise to be expedited to June 20 had given cause for concern, the Bar said in a statement today.

It said the first case involved the state of Selangor and the EC, where case management had been set for July 6.

“On June 6, 2017, the registrar of the Court of Appeal informed both parties that the case management had been brought forward to June 9, 2017,” said Malaysian Bar president George Varughese.

“At that case management, the parties were informed that the chief justice has directed that the hearing of the matter must be fixed on June 19, 20 or 21, 2017, although a hearing date of July 19, 2017 had previously been set by the court.

“Despite the lack of agreement on the date, the court then proceeded to fix June 20, 2017, for the hearing. The court ordered that written submissions and legal authorities be filed within four working days, that is, on or before June 15, 2017.”

The second case, Varughese said, involved the EC and seven individuals from the state of Melaka.

He said on June 5, the parties involved were informed that case management was to be held on June 9 on the appeal by the EC against the High Court’s decision to grant the applicants leave to seek judicial review, and to stay the redelineation work of the EC.

“Again, the hearing of the appeal before the Court of Appeal was fixed on June 20, 2017,” he said.

“However, in this case, the appeal record by the Attorney-General’s Chambers on behalf of the EC has not even been filed. This is contrary to the practice where hearing dates are not fixed before the appeal record has been filed.”

Varughese said the Bar agreed that court hearings on matters of public interest should be given priority as the implications of these legal challenges were far-reaching.

“However, prioritising such cases should not come at the expense of the parties concerned having the opportunity to undertake proper and thorough preparation for the hearings,” he said.

He said fixing hearing dates hastily without the agreement of the parties runs counter to the Chief Judge of Malaya’s Practice Direction 2 of 2011, which was issued after consultation with the chief justice of Malaysia.

Practice Direction 2 states:

“The court in the exercise of its discretion to set cases will take into consideration the availability of lawyers and must balance it with the need to resolve cases quickly, particularly old cases.

“Dates of hearings that have been set by the court cannot be brought forward except with the agreement of the parties.”

“It is clear that this Practice Direction 2 of 2011 is not being adhered to,” Varughese said.

He said while the Selangor and Melaka cases had been expedited, no attention appeared to have been paid to the Perak case, where leave to challenge the EC’s delineation proposal was rejected, and an appeal against that decision had been filed.

“If the administration of justice is to be seen as even-handed, the courts must be concerned not only in cases where the decision has gone against the EC, but equally in cases where the EC has won and there is an appeal.”

He called on the judiciary to give due and proper regard to the need for counsel for all parties to have adequate time to prepare and present their written and oral submissions in a manner that is befitting the dignity of the courts and the interest of justice.