PUTRAJAYA, March 29 — The Federal Court today unanimously acquitted late DAP leader Karpal Singh of sedition after finding a serious miscarriage of justice in his case over a 2009 remark on the Perak crisis then.
Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Zaharah Ibrahim, who chaired the Federal Court panel, said there were serious misdirections of law by the High Court and Court of Appeal that convicted and upheld the decision against Karpal respectively.
“In the circumstances of this case, we are of the view that the failure is a serious misdirection and had occasioned a substantial miscarriage of justice which is not curable under the proviso to Section 92(1) of the Courts of Judicature Act.
“Consequently, we allow both appeals against conviction and sentence and set aside the conviction and sentence against the appellant,” she said.
The other judges on the seven-man panel are Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Datuk Seri David Wong Dak Wah, Tan Sri Ramly Ali, Datuk Alizatul Khair Osman Khairuddin, Datuk Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim, Tan Sri Idrus Harun and Datuk Nallini Pathmanathan.
The High Court had initially on June 11, 2010 discharged Karpal of his sedition charge at the end of the prosecution’s stage, but the Court of Appeal had on January 20, 2012 ordered Karpal to enter his defence and sent the case back to the High Court for trial.
The same High Court judge had then on February 21, 2014, found Karpal guilty of sedition over his remarks on the Perak Sultan’s role in the 2009 Perak constitutional crisis, sentencing him to a fine of RM4,000.
Karpal died almost two months later on April 17, 2014, in a car accident on the North-South Expressway near Gua Tempurung, Perak.
On May 30, 2016, a separate panel in the Court of Appeal reaffirmed Karpal’s conviction and reduced his fine to RM1,800. Only one of the three judges there ruled that Karpal’s sedition conviction should have been set aside.
In the hearing today, his son and lawyer, Ramkarpal Singh, had argued that there were several misdirections in law.
Ramkarpal pointed out that both High Court judge Datuk Azman Abdullah and Court of Appeal judges Datuk Mohtarudin Baki and Datuk Kamardin Hashim who convicted Karpal had failed to consider his defence.
“The appellant (Karpal) gave evidence on his defence for seven days in court. None of that has been considered. Is that fair?” he asked.
“What matters is he has not been afforded his constitutional right to fair trial,” he later added when arguing that Karpal was denied a fair trial.
Ramkarpal was highlighting Karpal’s statutory defence under Section 3(2)(a) of the Sedition Act, where a remark shall not be deemed to be seditious just because it has a “tendency to show that any ruler has been misled or mistaken in any of his measures”.
The Court of Appeal panel in 2012 had however said that Section 3(2)(a) does not apply in Karpal’s case, with Ramkarpal saying that this position was subsequently “completely adopted” by the High Court and the Court of Appeal without considering Karpal’s defence.
In the Federal Court decision today, Zaharah said there was merit in Ramkarpal’s argument that there was a serious misdirection of law due to the High Court’s failure to consider and evaluate Karpal’s defence during the trial.
“Here defence was given on oath and the law requires it to be considered and evaluated by the learned trial judge,” she said, but noted that the High Court judge had failed to do so.
Zaharah said the majority of the Court of Appeal panel in 2016 had also failed to consider Karpal’s defence, saying that this was also a serious misdirection of law.
Zaharah acknowledged Ramkarpal’s argument that three out of four judges — namely the High Court judge and two of the Court of Appeal judges — had “failed to analyse the defence”.
When met outside court, Ramkarpal said Karpal was finally vindicated over the case which started 10 years ago, adding that he felt it is a just and right decision on the facts and evidence of the case.
Noting that Karpal had always maintained his innocence, Ramkarpal said the Federal Court today recognised that Karpal had not received a fair trial.
“All of them took the view that he was not given a fair trial and that he was acquitted, which means he is innocent of the charge against him,” he told reporters.
Ramkarpal also highlighted that Karpal’s remarks in 2009 regarding the Perak constitutional crisis was because of the latter wanting to carry out his duties as a federal lawmaker, adding that there “was nothing personal” in the remarks.
“He never had anything personal at any personality and I think that has been recognised today in the Federal Court,” he said.
Karpal, who was a lawyer, had in the past asserted that he was only giving his legal opinion.