A High Court judge has recused himself from hearing the application by Jonathan Laidlaw, a Queen’s Counsel (QC) of the UK, to represent Najib Razak in the former prime minister’s final appeal in the case involving the misappropriation of RM42 million from SRC International.
Justice Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh in a brief decision said he decided to recuse himself from hearing the application as one of his immediate family members was a very active politician and a divisional leader in the same political party as Najib, who is the appellant.
Wan Ahmad Farid, who himself was once an Umno politician, said although he had resigned from the political party, his stand was that the public perception of the independence of the judiciary should not be put in doubt.
“It is public knowledge that before being appointed to the bench, I was an active politician and at one time, a member of the administration and Dewan Negara.
“I must add that, after taking my oath as a member of the judiciary, my only sacred duty is to preserve, protect and defend the Federal Constitution without fear or favour,” he said.
The mention of Laidlaw’s application for ad hoc admission was initially fixed for today.
In his final appeal at the Federal Court, Najib is seeking to quash his conviction and 12-year jail sentence as well as his fine of RM210 million for one charge of abuse of power, three charges of breach of trust and three charges of money laundering linked to SRC International funds.
Wan Ahmad Farid said that in light of the factual narration that he alluded to earlier, his continued hearing of the originating motion and eventual decision, one way or the other, would not be seen as purely from the legal perspective, devoid of any extraneous predilections or preferences.
“It would invite unnecessary criticism that would compromise the integrity of the judiciary. This is the very thing that I have to avoid despite running the risk of being accused of abdicating my judicial duty.
“The public perception of the independence of the judiciary should not be put in doubt and it is not a matter of trial and error,” the judge said.
Wan Ahmad Farid also said that an independent judiciary is a precious gift to any society and, once it is lost, anarchy reigns.
“The independence of the judiciary must therefore be defended at all costs. For the reasons aforesaid, although there was no request made by any of the parties herein, I am recusing myself from hearing this originating motion,” he said.
Earlier, the judge had asked if the parties were comfortable with him hearing Laidlaw’s admission, to which Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who is representing Laidlaw, replied that he had no reservations as the judge was not involved in any SRC International or 1MDB-linked matters.
Ad hoc prosecutor V Sithambaram who is leading the prosecution in the SRC International case said he would seek instruction from the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
Bastian Vendargon from the Malaysian Bar and Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee chairman Vivekananda Sukumaran, who are objecting to the QC application, both said they would need to seek further instructions from the legal bodies.
Laidlaw’s application is now fixed to be heard on July 6 before another High Court judge, Ahmad Kamal Md Shahid.
On May 31, Najib filed the application to allow the QC to represent him in the SRC appeal on several grounds, including what he said was Laidlaw’s special qualifications, experience and expertise which were not available among lawyers in Malaysia.
In his originating motion, Laidlaw sought to be admitted and enrolled to practise in the High Court in Malaya or Peninsular Malaysia to appear as Najib’s lead counsel in the SRC appeals at the Federal Court and all other related causes or matters.