Ex-Bar president against live broadcast of Najib trial

Former prime minister Najib Razak leaves the High Court in Kuala Lumpur after case mention on March 22. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A former Malaysian Bar president disagrees with the idea of a live broadcast of Najib Razak’s SRC International trial, saying the ex-prime minister must be given a fair hearing.

“Najib should be accorded a fair trial in accordance with the principle of equality before the law,” Param Cumaraswamy told FMT.

Param, who is a former United Nations special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said calls for Najib’s trial to be broadcast live would negate these fundamentals.

“Neither his personality as former prime minister nor the magnitude of the amount involved should be a criterion for making an exception to these principles,” he said, voicing concern as well that television cameras could turn court proceedings “into a movie”.

He was responding to Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s remark that the government would leave it to the courts to decide on allowing a live telecast of the trial.

Najib faces seven charges of embezzlement, abuse of power, and money laundering involving RM42 million in funds belonging to SRC International, a former unit of state fund 1MDB.

On Saturday, he said he supports a live broadcast of his trial as it would aid in transparency.

“The people have a right to know the truth,” he said.

Interest in a live telecast was rekindled after the Federal Court last week gave the go-ahead for the trial to begin in the High Court.

Lawyer A Srimurugan is also against the live telecast of trials, especially cases which are of public interest. He said this cannot be done as it would compromise the integrity of the proceedings.

He added that witnesses might tailor their evidence to fit the testimonies of those who took the stand before them.

“The administration of justice would then be compromised,” he said.

He also warned against equating court proceedings with football matches or proceedings in Parliament.

In a trial, witnesses are not allowed to observe court proceedings until they have finished testifying.

Srimurugan said Section 7 of the Criminal Procedure Code and Section 15 of the Court of Judicature Act only state that proceedings are open to the public.

This, he said, could not be extended to live telecasts.

Meanwhile, lawyer N Sivananthan said live proceedings to cater for out-of-court audiences could not be held as the credibility of witnesses would be called into question.

“No would-be witnesses are allowed to follow the entire proceedings until and unless they have testified,” he said.

He said the live coverage of proceedings to investigate the death of Teoh Beng Hock in a royal commission of inquiry seven years ago was different as it had not been a trial.

“There, witnesses were called to give evidence but there was no accused standing trial,” he said.