Home Civil Society Voices More clarity required for law of contempt

More clarity required for law of contempt

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The Malaysian Bar calls upon the attorney general to revisit his discretion under Article 145(3) of the Federal Constitution, in relation to the contempt proceedings against Malaysiakini and its editor-in-chief Steven Gan.

The law of contempt serves the public interest and is not to vindicate the dignity of any judge or the court itself, but to prevent an undue interference with the administration of justice in the public interest. There must be a balance between public interest and individual liberties.

As was resolved at the 53rd annual general meeting in 1999, the Malaysian Bar reiterates that the power to punish for contempt of court is by tradition to be exercised sparingly and only in exceptional cases.

The Malaysian Bar understands that an inter partes hearing for the contempt proceedings has been fixed on 2 July 2020 (Thursday), pending disposal of Malaysiakini’s application to set aside the Federal Court ruling granting leave to the attorney general. The Malaysian Bar will hold a watching brief and ventilate the Bar’s views in the prescribed forum.

The law of contempt has been regarded by some common law countries as an archaic and unnecessary tool to interfere with freedom of expression. The UK has abolished the offence of “scandalising the court”.

The Malaysian Bar views that the vague concept of contempt of court has to be codified to provide a clear and unequivocal definition of legal concepts such as “scandalising the court” and to ensure some degree of certainty in this area of law. In this regard, the Bar Council is in the midst of drafting a contempt of court bill.

Salim Bashir is president of the Malaysian Bar

This piece dated 30 June 2019 is reproduced from here and has been edited for style only.

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