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KUALA LUMPUR, July 22 — Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun should not have written a letter to the trial judge hearing Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) case to ask for the trial to end earlier last Thursday to let the Pekan MP attend Parliament to debate the royal address, the Malaysian Bar president said today.
Salim Bashir, who heads the professional body representing over 19,800 lawyers in Peninsula Malaysia and the Federal Territories, noted that the Malaysian Bar is concerned about Azhar’s act of writing the letter to High Court judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah.
“Although the Speaker has defended the move by saying that he merely made a request and never instructed the trial Judge, his action may give rise to unnecessary perception towards certain members of the House, particularly in light of the controversy surrounding his appointment,” Salim said in a statement today.
Referring to the separation of powers doctrine relating to the three different arms of government which Azhar had himself cited, Salim said the Dewan Rakyat Speaker should have let those involved in the 1MDB trial to directly ask the court for the trial proceedings to end earlier last Thursday (July 16).
“As the Speaker rightfully pointed out, the powers of the Judiciary, Executive and Legislative are equal. The Speaker should have left it to the parties’ hands to seek the Court’s indulgence to adjourn the matter instead of writing to the trial Judge directly,” Salim said.
Salim went on to question if Azhar’s actions in Najib’s case would mean that lawyers who are also MPs would be able to also ask the Dewan Rakyat speaker to ask for the court cases that they are handling to be deferred, to enable such MPs to be present in Parliament if the court dates overlap with dates when the Dewan Rakyat is sitting.
“Does the Speaker’s written request in this instance mean that practising Members of the Bar who are members of Parliament, can now request the assistance of the Speaker to seek adjournment of their court matters in order to attend Parliamentary debates?” Salim asked.
On July 20, Azhar denied that he had instructed the High Court to adjourn Najib’s 1MDB trial on July 16 to enable the Pekan MP to deliver his speech in Parliament at a 3.40pm slot.
Azhar argued that he had merely made a “request” to the judge following Najib’s earlier failure to get the trial to end earlier on July 16 to avoid a clash with the parliamentary speech, asserting that the judge had then given his consent for the Pekan MP to attend Parliament.
Azhar was responding to Pakatan Harapan’s Tanjong Malim MP Chang Lih Kang, with the latter arguing that Najib’s slot for the debate speech could have been postponed to a later date that does not clash with Najib’s 1MDB trial.
Chang had also questioned if Azhar was setting a new precedent where anyone on trial will be able to obtain leave and attend Parliament sittings in the future.
Najib’s lawyers had failed when applying on July 15 for the High Court to end the next day’s proceedings in the 1MDB trial earlier at before 2pm by skipping the lunch break. At that time, Najib’s lawyers said he would be asking the Dewan Rakyat for a slot after 2pm on July 16.
On July 16, the High Court initially refused an application by Najib’s lawyers to reconsider ending the 1MDB trial earlier on that day, but subsequently decided to skip the usual lunch break to hear the case and end it earlier exactly at 3.15pm after receiving the Dewan Rakyat speaker’s letter.
The High Court judge had said that he had decided to allow the trial to end earlier after reading a letter from the Dewan Rakyat speaker, which he said had touched on the Parliament “takwim” or calendar that Najib’s lawyers had failed to inform previously. But the judge also warned that he would not be entertaining similar requests for adjournments in the future if no advance notice is given.
On July 16, Najib managed to make it in time for his debate speech slot at the Dewan Rakyat, which is near the High Court in Kuala Lumpur.