PUTRAJAYA: A sessions court judge sitting as a coroner has the jurisdiction to hear and punish anyone who commits contempt of court, the Court of Appeal held today.
A three-member bench chaired by judge Suraya Othman also ruled that contempt is punishable even if it takes place during a proceeding or outside the courtroom.
“A sessions court judge sitting as a coroner has jurisdiction to hear and punish (any party) for any contempt in or outside the court,” she said in dismissing an appeal by former attorney-general Tommy Thomas.
Sitting with her were Abu Bakar Jais and Hashim Hamzah.
On Jan 28, 2020, then judicial commissioner Meor Hashimi Abdul Hamid said the coroner’s court had jurisdiction to grant leave to initiate committal proceedings against Thomas for filing an affidavit during the inquest of firefighter Adib Mohd Kassim
However, the coroner did not find Thomas guilty of contempt due to non-disclosure of material facts by Adib’s father, Mohd Kassim Abdul Hamid.
Thomas came to the Court of Appeal to set aside the High Court ruling on the jurisdiction issue.
Kassim had filed an ex parte application for a committal order against Thomas for allegedly insulting the court through the filing of an affidavit by the Attorney-General’s Chambers on April 3, 2019, which indicated that his son’s death was not due to injuries caused by someone.
He also accused Thomas of committing contempt by issuing a media statement on May 28, 2019 while the inquest into Adib’s death was under way.
Thomas was the attorney-general from June 2018 to February 2020.
Suraya said a magistrates’ court or a coroner’s court conducting an inquiry into the death of a person under the Criminal Procedure Code was doing so as a court of law.
(Previously, magistrates doubled up as coroners but that task has now been given to sessions court judges.)
“Now, since a magistrate is holding an inquiry as a court of law, we hold that the magistrate clearly has the jurisdiction to punish (a party) for contempt of court,” she said.
She said the bench was unable to accept the submission by Ambiga Sreenevasan, the lawyer for Thomas, that contempt action could only be started if committed outside the courtroom as she was relying on a case law from the UK.
“The principle derived from the case is not applicable because of Section 3(1) of the Civil Law Act 1956,” she said.
That provision states courts in Malaysia shall apply the common law as well as rules of equity existing in England in the absence of written law in Malaysia.
“Instead, we have constitutional and statutory provisions regarding the power of the court to punish for contempt.”
Suraya said lower courts derived their contempt power from Paragraph 26 of the Third Schedule of the Subordinates Court Act 1948.
“In our view, the wording ‘powers to take cognisance’ in the paragraph will include contempt in and outside the court,” she said.
The bench allowed an application by Ambiga to file an appeal on the jurisdictional issue to the Federal Court.
Haniff Khatri Abdulla, who represented Kassim, did not object.
As a result, the bench reserved its ruling on two appeals by Kassim pending the apex court determining the jurisdictional issue.
On Sept 27, 2019, coroner Rofiah Mohamad had also ruled that “more than two unidentified persons” had killed Adib, who died after succumbing to injuries he sustained after being sent to the scene of a riot outside the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Subang Jaya.
Adib, 24, a member of the Subang Jaya fire and rescue department, was seriously injured in the riot on Nov 27, 2018 and died at the National Heart Institute on Dec 17.
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