Judges put prosecutor on spot in Surendran sedition case

Anwar Ibrahim’s lawyer N Surendran was charged with sedition in 2014.

PUTRAJAYA: Judges of the Court of Appeal put the public prosecutor on the spot today in a sedition case involving Padang Serai MP N Surendran even though Parliament had since removed the offence for which he was charged.

Justice Harminder Singh told the government’s lawyer that he appeared to be going against the will of Parliament by proceeding with the case.

Justice Mary Lim said the court should not be used to give effect to a provision of the law which was no longer valid. She said it would be a waste of time and resources if a trial was to proceed.

Justice Badariah Sahamid, who chaired the three-member bench, said it appeared that the judiciary would be put in an awkward position, and the case would cause uncertainty in the minds of the public.

“What will be the perception of the public on the administration of justice,” she asked senior federal counsel Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin, representing the government, which seeks to reject Surendran’s appeal to strike out the charge.

The judges were hearing an appeal by Surendran against a High Court decison rejecting his application for the charge to be dropped.

Surendran had been charged with sedition in 2014 for comments in a YouTube video criticising Prime Minister Najib Razak for purportedly mounting a political conspiracy against former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was convicted on a sodomy charge.

In 2015, Parliament approved an amendment to the law under which it was no longer an offence to make a fair comment on the administration of justice.

Justice Harminder asked Wan Shaharudin whether the public prosecutor had considered the representation made by Surendran’s lawyers for the charge to be dropped.

Wan Shaharudin told the bench that Surendran’s application was rejected by the High Court late last year but the accused was not notified.

“Do you expect the accused to figure out what happened by not replying,” Harminder asked.

Harminder also asked Wan Shaharudin why he wanted to proceed with the case when Parliament had amended the law such that the charge was no longer an offence.

“You are going against the will of Parliament,” he added.

Wan Shaharudin said the charge was valid as it was an offence in 2014 when the accused uttered statements which had seditious tendencies.

“My stand is that he committed the offence before the law was amended in 2015. Let this matter go to trial and the presiding judge can make a ruling,” he said.

Surendran’s counsel, Gurdial Singh Nijar, had urged the bench earlier to allow the appeal to strike out the charge as allowing it to stand would “bring disrepute to the administration of justice.”

It was also not prudent for the public prosecutor to retain the charge when Surendran, who was Anwar’s lawyer, had made the statement while carrying out his duty.

“As an officer of the court, he made the statement outside the court as the case was of public interest,” he said. Lawyers could not walk away from such matters, especially when the media was seeking clarification, he said.

The court has adjoured hearing of the appeal to May 28 for lawyers to file further submissions on whether the charge could stand.