Court defers hearing to stay returning officer’s jail term

Returning officer Amino Agos Suyub.

PUTRAJAYA: The Court of Appeal today deferred hearing a stay of a three-month prison term imposed on a returning officer for contempt of court.

A three-member bench chaired by Hamid Sultan Abu Backer said they doubted the Court of Appeal had jurisdiction to grant the stay as the matter had originated from an election court.

“There is no precedent on this matter. This is a rare case and must be tested (in the Federal Court),” said Hamid, who sat with justices Zabariah Yusof and Hanipah Farikullah.

He added that the bench would hear the application if the Federal Court decided the Court of Appeal had jurisdiction.

With the consent of both parties, the bench then stayed the proceeding to enable Amino Agos Suyub and the Election Commission (EC) to file the necessary papers in the Federal Court.

Under election rules, parties appealing against election petition cases must file their appeals in the Federal Court. However, it is unclear if interlocutory matters like contempt can also be heard in the apex court.

Last Wednesday, Agos was found guilty of coaching a witness in a petition brought by PKR candidate Dr Streram Sinnasamy.

The court cited Agos for contempt of court, saying he had guided his former subordinate, Daing Muhamad Rahimi Abdul Hamid, to give evidence in the petition.

The next day, Agos filed a notice of appeal and a stay of execution pending disposal of his case.

Election judge Azimah Omar, who handed down the sentence, said Agos’ conduct amounted to interference in the administration of justice.

She said the court must send a strong message that general elections or by-elections must be conducted in a free and fair manner.

Daing Muhamad, who was cross-examined on Oct 4, said Agos had sent him several text messages summarising his evidence and guiding him on how to give his testimony.

He had written in a message: “As Salam… After this be careful when you become a witness… I was severely questioned in court… It’s better to say that you don’t know…”

Streram’s lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla had requested that the judge take notice of the messages and initiate contempt proceedings against Agos.

Streram initially brought the action against Agos, the EC and Mohamad Hasan, the incumbent assemblyman for Rantau.

He said Agos and the EC had denied him his right to contest the Rantau seat in the May 9 general election.

He said he was never informed by the EC or its agents that name tags or entry passes were required to enter the Dewan Sri Rembau nomination centre.

The Rantau state assembly seat was won uncontested by Mohamad, the former Negeri Sembilan menteri besar who had been assemblyman for the constituency since 2004.

Streram sought for the election court to declare Mohamad’s victory illegal and that a by-election be held.

He said the EC had breached provisions in the Election Offences Act 1954 and regulations, and had denied him the constitutional right to contest in the election.

G Rajasingam represented Agos and the EC while Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali appeared for Streram.