Punish for contempt only as last resort, Bar says on Arun ruling

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Bar has voiced concern over the verdict and sentence of lawyer Arunachalam Kasi, better known as Arun Kasi, saying custodial punishments should not be imposed for contempt of court except in very serious cases.

Its president Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor said the law of contempt serves public interest and is not to vindicate the dignity of any particular judge or court.

“The prosecution of contempt against Arun Kasi and the sentence meted out create a negative perception of a stifling effect on public discourse, which is exacerbated by the lack of clear parameters governing the offence,” he said in a statement.

“Every individual has the right to make fair comment – within the boundaries of courtesy and good faith – on any matter of public importance.

“In no way should criticism of court decisions within these limits be viewed as contemptuous.”

Arun was yesterday sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined RM40,000 in lieu of a further 30 days’ imprisonment. This followed the Federal Court’s verdict that he was guilty of writing two articles critical of a court judgment.

The articles were published on the Aliran website, under the headlines “How a dissenting judgment sparked a major judicial crisis” on Feb 16 and “Tommy Thomas must look into arbitration centre that sparked judicial crisis” on Feb 22.

Calling the sentence “steep”, Fareed noted that during mitigation, Arun had said he intended only for reforms to be carried out in the Asian International Arbitration Centre (Malaysia), and had not meant to undermine the judiciary.

He also noted that the offence of “scandalising the court” has been abolished in England and Wales, adding that the court’s power to punish for contempt should be used sparingly and only as “a last resort”.

“In order for judicial decisions to stand the test of time, they must survive the test of public scrutiny,” he said.

“Only then can they be seen as sound judgments that are worthy to govern our conduct and direct our actions.”