MCO 2.0: Courts’ priority on corruption cases when trials resume Jan 27, could see return of Najib, Zahid’s cases

Chief Justice Tan Sri Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat speaks to the media at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya January 3, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Chief Justice Tan Sri Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat speaks to the media at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya January 3, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 20 — Malaysia’s courts will give priority to public interest cases such as corruption cases when the courts resume hearing criminal trials from January 27, the chief justice said today.

In an order today issued by Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, she said that the courts in all states and districts undergoing the movement control order (MCO) will continue to hear criminal proceedings, starting from January 27 onwards.

“All proceedings of criminal cases in open court will continue to be conducted with priority given to the following cases: a) pre-2020 cases with priority to continuation of hearing cases, b) cases involving child offenders, c) public interest cases covering corruption, commercial crime, environment, habeas corpus, domestic violence, breaches of Regulations made under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342), etc, and d) any cases that parties have requested to be conducted based on special reasons and exceptional circumstances,” the chief justice said.

“Regardless, the Court has the discretion to determine which case will be conducted in open court during the implementation of MCO,” she added.

The chief justice’s order was addressed to judges at all levels of the judiciary — Federal Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, Sessions Court, Magistrates’ Courts and all other court officials, with the order also copied to the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Bar Council, and the presidents of the Sabah Law Society and Advocates Association of Sarawak.

In the same order by the chief justice, she laid out the procedure that should be applied when the courts hear criminal trials, including for all scheduled proceedings to be conducted within the period given and with postponements not allowed.

The chief justice said three sessions of trial for criminal proceedings can be conducted in a day, with the maximum period given for each session to be 90 minutes and with breaks to be given in between each session.

Before the criminal trials start, the courts are to ensure that the ones attending open court or sitting inside the courtroom where proceedings are heard are limited to only these individuals: the accused and two family members or friends or acquaintances, one deputy public prosecutor or any number allowed by the court, one lawyer for the accused or any number allowed by the court, and witnesses in the case.

Also stated in the order was the requirement for these individuals to appear at the time fixed by the courts and to only be inside the courtroom when their cases are being conducted, with a maximum of two trial witnesses allowed to wait in the witness room at any one time and with compliance to physical distancing requirements.

Both prosecution and defence lawyers are required to ensure their witnesses only attend court on the days they are required to testify, while the court interpreters are to carry out their duties from their desks in the courtroom including when reading out charges to the accused, the order said.

But the order also said that the courts can also use their discretion in determining procedures for the conducting of proceedings in the courtroom.

Previously on January 12, the judiciary via the Federal Court’s Chief Registrar’s Office had ordered that all criminal trials in open court or courtrooms will not be held during the MCO period of January 13 to January 26, with such trials to be postponed, while also stating that any urgent criminal trials have to first receive approval from the Chief Judge of Malaya or the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak.

This had resulted in cases such as the high-profile trials of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Umno president and former deputy home minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s cases being postponed as their previously scheduled trial dates fall within the MCO period.

The MCO in parts of Malaysia — including Kuala Lumpur where the courts are hearing major corruption trials such as Najib’s and Zahid’s — is due to end on January 26, but it is unknown if the MCO would be extended. Six other states would also come under MCO from January 22 to February 4, with Sarawak the only state that would not be under MCO.

The chief justice’s order today would mean that criminal trials can go on to be heard in courts even if the MCO does get extended, instead of being delayed and disrupted indefinitely and hinging on the government’s latest announcements on movement control measures. 

Datuk Seri Najib Razak checks his phone at the Kuala Lumpur High Court January 6, 2021.  — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Datuk Seri Najib Razak checks his phone at the Kuala Lumpur High Court January 6, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

In her order today, the chief justice said that the January 12 instruction on the postponement of criminal trials in open court is cancelled with today’s order that will take effect on January 27.

The chief justice said that her order today is to ensure that the criminal justice system is not affected and can be continued throughout the MCO to carry out court powers.

Separately, the judiciary via the Federal Court’s Chief Registrar’s Office today issued a new set of standard operating procedures for the conduct of all civil and criminal cases in all courts in Malaysia from January 27 onwards.

These new set of rules taking effect on January 27 will be replacing an earlier set of court SOPs and precautions issued by the judiciary on May 3, 2020.

Under the new set of rules, those attending court are required to follow the seating arrangements determined by the court as well as the physical distancing markings in the courtroom, while only one lawyer from each side will be allowed in the courtroom unless the court grants exceptions, and with only two persons for the accused — family members, friends or acquaintances — allowed to be inside.

Among other things, the new set of SOPs intended to prevent Covid-19 cases also indicated that the media are not to be physically present in courtrooms during any proceedings, but that the court could consider facilitating media coverage for cases involving public interest, by either using the Zoom video-conferencing application or preparing a room with a ‘live’ video feed of the courtroom for reporters with compliance to physical distancing, wearing of face masks and use of hand sanitisers.

The new rules also listed those who are not allowed to appear in court, namely those who have tested positive for Covid-19, whose body temperature exceeds 37.5 degree Celsius, have symptoms such as a fever, cough, flu or difficulty breathing, have close contact with Covid-19 cases, are categorised as Person Under Investigation (PUI) or Person Under Surveillance (PUS), or have undergone a Covid-19 swab but have yet to receive their test results.

The new rules also state that individuals who do not have any matters to handle at court are not allowed to appear.

The rules require those who show up in court to always practise physical distancing, always wear face masks while on court premises, and to comply with physical distancing markers in court such as in the canteen, court counters, lifts and courtrooms.

They are also required to not gather at court counters and with only one person allowed to be at the counters at any one time, and to not be allowed to meet with prisoners or the accused who are under remand at any place within the court premises except for in the courtroom during open court unless while signing bail documents.

They are only allowed to enter the courtroom when their cases are called and have to leave the courtroom when their case proceedings are completed, and are encouraged to use the e-Jamin app to pay bail and to use the cash deposit machine or the ePOS channel for fine payments.

They are only allowed to enter the courtroom when their cases are called and have to leave the courtroom when their case proceedings are completed, and are encouraged to use the e-Jamin app to pay bail and to use the cash deposit machine or the ePOS channel to pay for fines.

They also have to scan the QR Code with the MySejahtera app before entering the court premises and before entering any courtroom or court facilities that have a MySejahtera QR Code on display, or record their name and body temperature in a registration book if they do not have the MySejahtera app. 

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