The AG, Chief Registrar and IGP must explain the special treatment of Nurul Hidayah Ahmad Zahid
On 5 May, in Putrajaya, Magistrate Shah Wira Abdul Halim made two decisions which, judging by statements made and repeated on social media, have outraged the public.
According to news reports, reporters who were seated in the courtroom, were asked to leave before the hearing commenced. They were therefore not able to witness the proceedings. The reports of the hearing are unclear. We cannot be sure why the magistrate apparently asked them to leave, what directive, if any, he gave about reporting, and on what basis he imposed a fine of RM800 which is lower than fines imposed on others.
Disquiet among the public is natural, since there have been numerous reports of RM1,000 fines imposed on persons who pleaded guilty to almost identical offences. Persons fined to-date range from leading politicians to the abject poor.
According to one news report, (link) one “mitigating factor” offered by counsel Datuk Ahmad Zaidi Zainal (assisted by counsel Datuk Rosal Azimin Ahmad) for Nurul and her husband, is that they were out in order to attend a meeting called by a Deputy Minister.
We note that on 29 April, even the Deputy Minister for Health and a Perak Exco member were fined RM1,000 each for a similar offence.
We note that single mother Lisa Christina, 30 yrs, was jailed by the Shah Alam magistrate court for breaching the MCO – and that on 29 April the High Court revised her sentence to a fine of RM1,000.
Lisa has rightly questioned why lesser fines were imposed on Nurul, 41 yrs and her husband, 49 yrs. It is hard for the public not to conclude that the couple were shown favouritism on account of Nurul’s pedigree, her father being the leader of Umno.
Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. And it must be seen to respect the guarantee of equal treatment of all persons under the law, as enshrined in Article 8 of the Federal Constitution.
It has been reported that the Chief Registrar of the Federal Court, Ahmad Terrirudin Bin Mohd Salleh, has clarified that “no instruction [was] given to ban the media from the open court proceedings,” that the magistrate “did not realize the presence of the media,” and the “clearing” was to comply with the social distancing guidelines issued by the Health Ministry (link). To clear the air and avoid bringing justice into disrepute, we call upon him to inform the public how the “clearing” was communicated in the courtroom – since it appears even reporters (who have keen ears) could not comprehend it. Did the magistrate take proper account of the level of public interest in the case?
According to a news report, the two Deputy Public Prosecutors (DPP) who attended the case called for a deterrent sentence including fine and imprisonment. We are shocked that they asked for a prison term. Prisons are places where social distancing cannot be exercised! Why are they still asking for prison terms?
The public is unclear whether the DPPs objected to the hampering of access to reporters. We therefore call upon the Attorney General (AG) to clear the air and inform the public whether the DPPs objected to the non-fulfilment of the open court expectations found in the Criminal Procedure Code (sections 7) and the Courts of Judicature Act (section 15). We also call upon the AG to inform the public whether he has directed his chambers to appeal the sentence of RM800.
We have not sighted any news reports of the couple being handcuffed and brought to court in a police car. We call upon the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Tan Sri Hamid Bador, to explain why they were treated differently from other alleged MCO offenders such as the Penang cardiologist who was brought handcuffed to court, in a police car.
Despite difficult circumstances, it appears the courts have, broadly speaking, acted independently of the executive, handled a large case load and acted responsively to feedback on punishments. The subject case is a blemish which, if unaddressed, may tar the reputation of the courts.
The AG’s seeming approach of being a maidservant to the executive and aloof from the public is tragic, but it is never too late to make amends.
Policemen on the ground have laboured to enforce the MCO, despite some abuses of power. The nation is grateful. But, many decisions by senior officers, such as handcuffing and remanding those who are not elites, worsens the already poor image of the police. We urge the IGP to urgently act against errant officers and inform the public of the same.
EDICT 7 May 2020