NOVEMBER 12 — In an appeal before the Federal Court more than 40 years ago, the facts were that the appellant gave false testimony at the murder trial of an accused who was convicted and sentenced to death.
That case rested on the appellant’s testimony which provided the main link in the largely circumstantial evidence tendered by the prosecution. (See Bhandulananda Jayatilake v Public Prosecutor  1 MLJ 83)
The conviction and sentence were set aside by the apex court when the appellant confessed on oath that he had told lies at that murder trial. The appellant was duly charged and convicted of giving false evidence with intent to procure the accused’s conviction of a capital offence under section 194 of the Penal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years and a fine.
The learned trial judge imposed a sentence of 10 years imprisonment.
The appellant argued before the Federal Court that the sentence was wrong; that it was harsh and manifestly excessive. The Court should therefore interfere because every wrong sentence is as much a miscarriage of justice as a wrongful conviction or acquittal.
The Court agreed that giving false testimony in a capital case was a very serious thing to do because it could jeopardise the life of an accused.
Witnesses giving evidence in court must never underrate the importance of speaking the truth as truthful testimony would assist the court in arriving at a true verdict.
It is most important therefore that people who appear as witnesses in court should never deviate from the truth for otherwise they would be polluting the administration of justice and thus committing a serious wrong to the court and society.
The offence of judicial perjury which the appellant had committed was grave, involving the risk of human life. Public interest must outweigh the plea of mitigation. The appellant had shown a wanton disregard for truth. The sanctity of an oath meant nothing to him. He had acted with malice and with the direct object of bringing the administration of justice into disrepute.
Be that as it may, was the 10-year imprisonment sentence harsh and manifestly excessive?
Acting Lord President Raja Azlan Shah (later Lord President), who was sitting with two Federal Court judges who were to succeed as Lord President – Salleh Abas and Abdul Hamid Omar – delivered the judgement of the Court. His Lordship said:
“As this is an appeal against the exercise by the learned judge of a discretion vested in him, is the sentence so far outside the normal discretionary limits as to enable this Court to say that its imposition must have involved an error of law of some description?
“The very concept of judicial discretion involves a right to choose between more than one possible course of action upon which there is room for reasonable people to hold differing opinions as to which is to be preferred. That is quite inevitable.
“Human nature being what it is, different judges applying the same principles at the same time in the same country to similar facts may sometimes reach different conclusions (see Jamieson v Jamieson  AC 525, 549).
“It is for that reason that some very conscientious judges have thought it their duty to visit particular crimes with exemplary sentences; whilst others equally conscientious have thought it their duty to view the same crimes with leniency.
“Therefore, sentences do vary in apparently similar circumstances with the habit of mind of the particular judge.”
So, if one thinks that the sentences imposed on MP for Muar Syed Saddiq are disproportionate, then read and digest the above words of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, judicial minds of the country.
The apex court has said it again and again that it will not normally interfere with sentences, and the possibility or even the probability, that another court would have imposed a different sentence is not sufficient, per se, to warrant the court's interference.
It must be shown that the learned trial and sentencing judge had embarked on some unauthorised or extraneous or irrelevant exercise of sentencing discretion.
Let Syed Saddiq and his legal team make that out in his appeal against conviction and sentence.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.