Ex-senior DPP: Less experience in criminal law not a problem for AG

Attorney-general Tommy Thomas is said to be an expert in civil, administrative and constitutional law, with less experience in criminal law. (YouTube screengrab)

PETALING JAYA: A retired government lawyer today said Tommy Thomas could rely on his prosecutors and other experienced criminal lawyers in conducting prosecutions, amid concerns over the attorney-general’s reported lack of experience in criminal law.

Stanley Isaacs said these were options available to Thomas in the immediate future until he “settled down”.

Stanley Isaacs

“I am sure, with his experience as a lawyer, he will be able to pick up the threads of prosecution to handle high profile cases,” said Isaacs, a former head of prosecution in the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

Thomas, who has been a lawyer for 42 years, is an expert in civil, administrative and constitutional law.

Before he was appointed as attorney-general, former judge Gopal Sri Ram said it was vital for the government to get someone with a rounded knowledge of civil and criminal law.

Otherwise, Sri Ram said, the government would be headed for legal disaster because “criminal charges would have to be brought very soon against those who had violated laws under the previous government”.

However, Isaacs said Thomas could depend on senior deputy public prosecutors (DPPs) or lawyers in determining the sufficiency of evidence to prove a prima face case before charges were made.

“Relying on lawyers is akin to engaging a consultant, and I don’t think this is prohibited under the law,” he said.

He said the lawyers could also advise investigators from law enforcement agencies to collect sufficient evidence to prove the ingredients of a charge.

“During my time, we had to ensure 90% evidence was collected to secure a prima facie case. Anything less would not be satisfactory,” he told FMT.

In any event, he said the attorney-general, who is also the public prosecutor, had to give his approval for an accused person to be charged if he was satisfied that there was prima facie evidence, and to finally secure a conviction.

Isaacs said Thomas could also issue a special licence to experienced lawyers to conduct trials in court.

“This used to be done in the early days after Merdeka,” the 75-year-old said, adding that lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah was made ad-hoc DPP when the government in 2013 appealed against Anwar Ibrahim’s acquittal for sodomy.

Alternatively, he said, DPPs could prosecute the accused persons and handle appeals.

Isaacs said the attorney-general could feature in the prosecution team if it was handled by his subordinates or lawyers.

“The attorney-general can come in and start the case and make submissions at the end of the prosecutions or defence cases,” he added.