KUALA LUMPUR: Attorney-General (AG) Idrus Harun must consider matters carefully before he decides to commence legal action against any individual over the Batu Puteh sovereignty issue as Putrajaya may have taken a contrary stand previously, a lawyer said.
A Srimurugan said the present administration’s position conflicted with the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ stance in 2021 when defending a layperson’s civil suit.
“If a lawsuit is filed, the AG might find himself with an uphill task,” he said.
Srimurugan was reacting to Idrus’ statement today that former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s decision to withdraw applications filed with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a review of its ruling and an interpretation of the decision was “not in order” and “improper”.
Idrus said this was based on a Jan 11 Cabinet decision.
He also said the AGC was studying recommendations made by a special task force on the matter, including as to whether there has been any misfeasance in public office.
In its defence to a suit filed by Hatta Sanuri in May 2021, the government said it had abandoned the idea of seeking the review in 2018 after weighing the views of foreign legal consultants.
In court documents filed in October 2021, it said Mahathir, named as the first defendant, felt the review ought to be discontinued in the interest of the nation and due to its cost implications.
The defence said the Cabinet also agreed that the review should be abandoned.
On May 23, 2008, the ICJ ruled that Singapore had sovereignty over Batu Puteh and Malaysia over Middle Rocks, while South Ledge would belong to the state in whose territorial waters it is located.
In June 2017, Malaysia applied to the ICJ to request an interpretation of the judgment.
The withdrawal of the review application was recorded in the ICJ on May 29, 2018.
The decision of the government, which was named the second defendant, was also explained by then AG Tommy Thomas via media statements issued on May 31 and July 13, 2018.
The defence statement said former deputy law minister Hanipa Maidin also explained the withdrawal in the Dewan Negara on Sept 3, 2018.
In July last year, however, the High Court allowed the government’s application to strike out the suit as Hatta lacked legal standing to bring the action.
Hatta has filed an appeal in the Court of Appeal.
Lawyer Syed Iskandar Syed Jaafar al-Mahdzar said Malaysia was time-barred from filing a review with the ICJ.
He said Article 61(5) of the ICJ statute states that an application for revision may not be made after the lapse of 10 years from the date of the judgment.
Syed Iskandar said as legal adviser to the government of the day, Idrus was bound to implement the present administration’s orders.
In October 2021, former AG Apandi Ali was appointed to head a task force reviewing the withdrawal decision. Its report was presented to the Cabinet last year.
On Oct 13, caretaker prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the Cabinet was told that there was possible negligence and oversight on Mahathir’s part regarding the Batu Puteh claim.