LETTER | I refer to the report MP wants Zahid cited for contempt, brands his remarks as reckless.
I think it’s a fair call by Ramkarpal Singh.
The DAP lawmaker pointed out that the Federal Court had jailed and fined lawyer Arun Kasi on a contempt charge for unfairly criticising its judgment in another case.
Reference can also be made to the then-Supreme Court (now Federal Court) decision more than thirty years ago in Attorney-General & Ors v Arthur Lee Meng Kuang (1987).
In that case, letters were written to three Supreme Court Judges which were highly derisive of the Supreme Court. The judgment of the Supreme Court was not only criticised but was alleged to be unjust and biased.
The right of speech and expression is guaranteed by Article 10 of the Federal Constitution but a proper balance has to be struck between that right and the need to protect the dignity and integrity of the judiciary in the interest of maintaining public confidence in it.
As such, but only in proper cases, committal for contempt of court for attacks on the courts may be absolutely necessary to preserve in the public the dignity of and respect for the courts.
It is not that judges and courts are immune to criticism. In fact, they are alike open to criticism. If reasonable argument or expostulation is offered against any judicial act as contrary to law or the public good, no court could or would treat that as contempt of court.
The Privy Council, once the highest court of the country, in a case in 1936 thoughtfully said as follow:
“No wrong is committed by any member of the public who exercises the ordinary right of criticising in good faith in private or public the public act done in the seat of justice. The path of criticism is a public way: the wrong-headed are permitted to err therein: provided that members of the public abstain from imputing improper motives to those taking part in the administration of justice, and are genuinely exercising a right of criticism and not acting in malice or attempting to impair the administration of justice, they are immune. Justice is not a cloistered virtue: she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful even though outspoken comments of ordinary men.”
It is now trite law that no criticism of a judgment of a court, however vigorous, can amount to contempt of court, providing it keeps within the limits of reasonable courtesy and good faith.
Whether a criticism is within the limits of reasonable courtesy and good faith depends on the facts of each particular case, having regard to local conditions.
The issue with Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s remarks concerning the magistrate’s decision to acquit the woman over a reckless driving charge is not whether the criticisms of the decision are well-founded, but it is whether having regard to all the circumstances of the case, the criticisms are within the limits of reasonable courtesy and good faith.
And I think Ramkarpal is fair in calling for contempt of court proceedings.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.