Undermining public confidence in administration of justice — Puthan Perumal

APRIL 30 — In the recent Federal Court Civil Application 08(i)-394-07/2018(W) judgment dated April 23, 2019 (the scandalising contempt application dated February 28, 2018 by the Attorney General against an advocate solicitor), the Federal Court said:

[113] Therefore it is our finding that there has been no rational or cogent basis given for the grave allegations levelled against the Federal Court and thereby the Judiciary. In our view, an objective assessment is that these statements are calculated to undermine the public confidence in the administration of justice, which amounts to scandalising contempt.

It is humbly submitted that for there to be any sort of undermining or eroding of the public confidence in the administration of justice, the pre-requisite must necessarily be the presence of the public’s confidence itself.

It is only with the existence of this confidence by the public, can there be an assessment as to whether any statements made by any person or persons had undermined it.

The confidence of the public in the administration of justice is not something that is built overnight, and on the same note, it is also something that can be eroded by one or two statements or articles.

Ultimately, public confidence in the judiciary is either gained or lost.

Naturally one can only gain confidence in something over a period of time based on prior conduct and actions. Likewise, that is also how it is lost.

In other words, it is the perception of the public over time on the administration of justice that leads one to reach the conclusion whether or not he or she has confidence in it. It is not something that can be forced down on people neither can it be so easily taken away.

Therefore, inevitably the decisions of the courts, especially in public interest matters, definitely do play a role in deciding whether one has confidence in administration of justice or not.

If, for example over the past 20 years or so, the public had no confidence with the administration of justice, and I am saying if, we cannot expect people to suddenly have it now just because there is a change in the government.

Sadly, it is not how it works.

It would perhaps take another twenty years just to be build back the confidence in people. And again, decisions of the courts in public interest matters play a role. Fair and reasoned judgments definitely would help build this confidence.

Like it or not, private litigated cases, in my humble opinion, do not play that big of a role as compared to public litigated matters in this scale of confidence in the administration of justice. This is simply because the former does not attract much attention in the media as opposed to the latter.

That a statement or statements or articles had undermined or has the real risk of undermining or eroding the public’s confidence in the administration of justice is perhaps not quite cutting it. If there was no confidence to begin with, and again I am saying if, what undermining or erosion could there be?

In the bigger scheme of things, one should also consider the “atmosphere in the room” when viewing a case for contempt of scandalising the judiciary.

Perhaps one may not be that articulate in voicing his or her opinion on the level of confidence in the administration of justice, but it is their opinion nevertheless and it is humbly submitted that the appropriate authorities should not be so unforgiving but rather correct them where necessary.

* Puthan Perumal is an advocate and solicitor.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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