Judges duty-bound to provide grounds for judgments, say lawyers

Lawyers say the Federal Court has repeatedly stressed the necessity of providing broad grounds for judgments.

PETALING JAYA: Lawyers have pointed to a recent Federal Court order that a Thai national’s appeal against the death sentence for possession of firearms be reheard as an important message that judges must provide reasoned decisions for their verdicts.

Amer Hamzah Arshad said it is also the constitutional duty of judges to provide a speaking or reasoned decision.

“It is no longer accepted for a court to give only a non-speaking decision without providing parties with the reasons,” he told FMT, adding that a reasoned decision would promote accountability and transparency.

He said it would also inspire public confidence in the administration of justice and minimise, if not eliminate, the chances of arbitrariness.

Songsil Udtoom was sentenced to death by the High Court in 2012, a decision affirmed by the Federal Court in 2016. His lawyer said a letter from the Federal Court registry had stated that the judgment would not be made available as it did not generate new points of law.

On Monday, the apex court set aside the conviction of his death sentence after allowing his review application, filed last year.

Judge Rohana Yusuf said the court had not adequately informed him of the grounds for his conviction.

Lawyer A Srimurugan said the Federal Court had repeatedly stated that judges have the duty to provide the broad grounds for their decisions, and that failure to do so violates Article 5 of the Federal Constitution.

“Whether it is a criminal or civil case, aggrieved parties have the right to know why adverse judgments are given,” he said.

Without the grounds of judgment, he added, parties would not know whether a trial or appellate judge had been right or wrong in coming to the court’s ultimate decision.

Lawyer T Gunaseelan said merely stating that “the appeal has no merit” or that “the trial judge did not err for appellate court intervention” should be a thing of the past.

He cited the Indian Supreme Court which he said had described the duty to provide reasons for judgment as “the heartbeat of every conclusion” and “the lifeblood of judicial decision-making”.

Songsil was one of three Thai nationals arrested along with a Malaysian on Feb 4, 2007 in a room at a hotel in Bandar Sunway on suspicion of robbing a goldsmith outlet in Subang Parade a day before.

Songsil; his older brother Jukkis; Loo Yeong Guang from Rantau, Negeri Sembilan; and his Thai girlfriend Phailin Noochangphueak were sentenced to death by the High Court in 2012.

They were accused of having in their possession six firearms without valid reason as well as 336 bullets of various types without authority under the now-repealed Internal Security Act.

In 2015, the Court of Appeal set aside the High Court verdict and acquitted the four.

Since the prosecution appealed against the acquittals, the Thais were held in remand, but Loo, who was freed, never attended court during the prosecution’s appeal.

On Oct 2, 2016, the Federal Court sentenced Jukkis and Phailin to two years’ jail on a reduced charge of possession of bullets under the Arms Act.

They were subsequently freed but Songsil was sentenced to death.