Lawyers: Speaker wrong to stop debate on Najib’s court case

Dewan Rakyat Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof decided to allow MPs to discuss 1MDB but only in respect to civil matters. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Two lawyers said MPs should be allowed to debate the 1MDB issue without any restriction.

Syed Iskandar Syed Jaafar Al Mahdzar said a decision of the court could not bind the legislature while R Kengadharan said a court decided cases based on the strength of law and evidence, not hearsay and rumours.

They said this in response to Dewan Rakyat Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof’s decision to allow MPs to discuss 1MDB but only in respect to civil matters.

Syed Iskandar said: “MPs can discuss the 1MDB matter provided they follow the law and the Standing Order.”

He said a “questionable” gag order issued by a High Court on public discussion of the 1MDB-related case against Najib Razak only bound the media and did not extend to the legislature.

The lawyer said the speaker should have made a blanket ruling that 1MDB could be debated in the house but cautioned the media about the consequences if they reported the proceedings due to a gag order.

Ariff, a retired judge, said his decision was based on international practices in Commonwealth jurisdictions such as Australia and the United Kingdom.

Ariff’s predecessor Pandikar Amin Mulia had banned issues linked to the US Department of Justice’s civil action against 1MDB-related transactions from being brought up in the Dewan Rakyat.

Ariff had said Najib’s criminal proceedings could not be raised due to an interim gag order by the High Court issued on July 4. He said the ruling was to respect the High Court’s decision and the separation of powers.

Najib has claimed trial to three counts of criminal breach of trust and abuse of power over RM42 million, part of funds from SRC International, a previous subsidiary of 1MDB, that was found in his private bank account.

To prevent a trial by media, Najib’s lawyers applied for a gag order to stop the case from being discussed in the public domain.

Syed Iskandar said the legislature (Parliament) and the judiciary (courts) were independent of each other in the separation of power scheme.

“A decision of the court cannot bind the legislature and its members,” he said.

He urged MPs to ask the speaker to reconsider his ruling.

Meanwhile, Kengadharan said Mohamad Ariff could discipline members if they abused their parliamentary privilege, instead of allowing them to only touch on civil aspects of the case.

“I see no reason why the speaker should impose a limitation on the 1MDB issue just because there is a criminal proceeding against the former prime minister and an interim gag order,” he said.

He said this was unprecedented and not healthy for the growth of local democracy.

Kengadharan said MPs had a social duty to their constituents while judges had a legal duty.

“The court decides cases based on the strength of law and evidence, not hearsay and rumours,” he added.

It is unclear whether Attorney-General Tommy Thomas would apply to set aside the order when the court convenes on Aug 8.

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