After Najib's trial postponement request, Bar highlights misconduct risk

Datuk Seri Najib Razak was charged on July 4, 2018 with one count of abuse of power and three counts of criminal breach of trust in relation to RM42 million of ex-1MDB unit SRC International Sdn Bhd funds. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Datuk Seri Najib Razak was charged on July 4, 2018 with one count of abuse of power and three counts of criminal breach of trust in relation to RM42 million of ex-1MDB unit SRC International Sdn Bhd funds. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 19 — The Malaysian Bar yesterday voiced disapproval of Datuk Seri Najib Razak's lawyers' bid to postpone his trial that was scheduled to start next month, pointing out that applications to defer trials without sound basis can be considered as professional misconduct.

Malaysian Bar president George Varughese said Najib's legal team reportedly has had over seven months to prepare the former prime minister's defence in the corruption case involving a former 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) subsidiary, with the trial currently scheduled to start February 12.

“According to the news reports, the defence team has had over seven months to prepare its defence, which is a reasonable amount of time. 

“We do not condone what appears to be a frivolous application for adjournment, especially if the intention is to delay the trial.  Counsel should assist the court to complete trials in a prompt and professional manner, especially in cases of such significant public interest,” he said in a brief statement today.

In arguing that there must be sound basis for such requests for trial to be deferred, Varughese also highlighted the risks of making frivolous bids to postpone trials.

“Frivolous applications for adjournment are in breach of the Legal Profession (Practice and Etiquette) Rules 1978, non-compliance with which may be regarded as misconduct within section 94(3) of the Legal Profession Act 1976, and may lead to disciplinary proceedings being taken against an advocate and solicitor or a pupil reading in chambers.

“As members of a honourable profession and officers of the court, it behoves us to conduct ourselves ethically, and with professionalism, integrity and propriety at all times,” he said.

Najib was charged on July 4, 2018 with one count of abuse of power and three counts of criminal breach of trust in relation to RM42 million of ex-1MDB unit SRC International Sdn Bhd funds, and was again charged on August 8 with three counts of money-laundering over the same sum.

The High Court had fixed February 12 until March 29 as the trial dates.

Najib's lawyers headed by Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah had reportedly earlier this month asked the High Court to indefinitely postpone trial until the Court of Appeal decides on two appeals - regarding discovery of documents and a challenge against the appointment of senior lawyer Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah as the lead prosecutor.

The prosecution yesterday noted Najib’s lawyers had said the postponement was necessary for the defence’s “efforts in mounting an effective defence”.

But the prosecution yesterday vigorously objected Najib's bid for the indefinite postponement, arguing that it was “frivolous and would cause an unreasonable delay to the scheduled trial”.

The prosecution yesterday urged the High Court to refuse Najib's application for the trial's postponement in light of the case's public interest and importance.

Najib is facing another 32 criminal charges involving three other matters.