On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Credibility of the judiciary is at stake

The four-year-old video, probably recorded by someone known to the lawyer, has become the subject of a controversy because if there were any truth to the accusations by the opposition, it would have serious implications on the judiciary. 

The media has treated the subject with care because they are aware of the mega suits that will follow if the accusations cannot be substantiated. 

The bloggers, less worried about the financial and legal implications, have identified the lawyer and senior judge and some have even uploaded the video clip.  

The Bar Council members have decided to march to the Prime Minister’s Office tomorrow to hand over a memorandum demanding a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate the allegations. 

The protest march, if it takes place, is unprecedented, because the last time such a gathering took place was in the late 1980s, when the Bar protested against then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad over the Official Secrets Act and other laws. 

Together with unionists, journalists, academicians and activists, they wore anti-OSA badges and black armbands at the entrance of the Parliament in protest against these laws, which they regarded as draconian. These laws are still in existence today. 

On Sunday, the senior judge implicated in the video clip denied he was the person in question. Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, the de facto Law Minister, said he was contacted by the judge who denied the allegation. 

Although the issue has upset many Malaysians, it will be difficult to prove the allegations. For a start, the authenticity of the video clip would have to be proven to ensure it was not doctored.  

It is an eight-minute video clip, which the opposition has admitted was edited. Parti Keadilan Rakyat, which released it, has said this was done to protect the whistle-blower. 

Secondly, although the video clip is clear and the person on the video can be identified, or least bears much resemblance to the said lawyer, the fact that it was edited makes it very difficult to use it as evidence in court. 

Thirdly, it would not come as a surprise if the lawyer in question claimed he was merely play-acting to impress his listeners of his “brokering power”.  

In short, he could say he was merely bragging. But if that is the case, then he has plenty to explain to the Bar Council, of which we can assume he is a member, and he might walk away with just a slap on the wrist. 

Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail has said there was no criminal element in the video clip as the conversation was monologue in nature. He said there was no clear reference that the lawyer was talking to a top judicial officer. 

But the opposition is not letting such defences off lightly. They have pointed out the sequence of events, saying there were many coincidences, and that no one should downplay the gravity of the case. 

The controversy has also become louder because the lawyer concerned has not issued any denial. Now, that his name has been widely circulated and implicated, he should come out to give an explanation. 

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has correctly called on the police to investigate the matter, saying “we cannot treat this matter lightly” as the integrity of the judiciary is in question. 

Certainly, PKR is doing so to score political points as the party could have instead given the video to the police or Anti-Corruption Agency. But this does not mean we should ignore the controversy. 

We shouldn’t shift the goal post – because the issue at hand is the integrity and credibility of the judiciary, which is an important branch in the concept of separation of powers in a democracy. 

The judiciary serves as a check and balance to allow democracy to function effectively.  

It also serves as an important avenue for the people to seek justice, including seeking redress from the executive. 

Democratic countries with established judicial systems are more attractive to investors because businessmen have confidence they could rely on the courts if they have problems, compared to authoritarian or theocratic countries. 

It is important that we protect the image of our judiciary. There should not be any perception that the system can be tampered or worse still, bought, because it would not just dent its credibility but erode it. 

The world, not just Malaysians, is watching how the authorities handle this episode.