The Kuala Lumpur High Court will decide on July 21 whether a Queen's Counsel (QC) can represent Najib Razak in his final appeal in his SRC International case involving the misappropriation of RM42 million.
Judge Ahmad Kamal Md Shahid set the date after hearing submissions from the prosecution and defence on the application by the former prime minister to allow Jonathan Laidlaw of the UK to represent him.
The prosecution asked how a QC could effectively assist the Federal Court in the case when the lawyer had not attended the related hearings in the High Court and Court of Appeal.
Deputy public prosecutor V Sithambaram said it was needless for Laidlaw to represent Najib in his final appeal as Malaysian lawyers were able to deal with any novel and complex issues surrounding the case.
"My Lord, the said criminal appeals do not involve novel or complex issues and in any event, those issues have been deliberated by the learned trial judge and affirmed by the Court of Appeal. He (Laidlaw) is a brilliant man, I’m not denying that, but we don’t need him here," he said.
"If only a foreign counsel could handle novel or complex issues, I think, in the future, Malaysians must run to England to get a QC. Surely a foreign counsel like the appellant, lacking in local knowledge and not having handled the trial and appeal, would necessarily be disadvantaged in handling the appeals in the Federal Court."
Sithambaram said the application should not be allowed as Laidlaw, if permitted to represent Najib, would still need to fly to Malaysia, read the case files, and only then make his arguments.
"This would open the floodgates to similar applications in other court cases," he added.
He also said that the applicant had failed to show that advocates and solicitors in Malaysia, especially Najib’s current counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, or other senior criminal lawyers, lacked the qualifications and experience to conduct the criminal appeals.
He further argued that the QC’s assistance was not needed as Shafee had argued for Najib when the trial was at the High Court and all the way through the initial appeal before the Court of Appeal.
Lawyer Harvinderjit Singh, representing Laidlaw, countered that the applicant was recognised as a specialist in business and financial crimes, and would also have unique qualifications and experience in matters of statutory construction, which he added would be relevant to the issues in the appeal.
The application has also met with objection from the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the Malaysian Bar and the Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee by virtue of them being the four respondents.
Earlier when proceedings began, Harvinderjit requested that the court adjourn today’s hearing to tomorrow as Shafee was unwell and could not attend court.
However, the four respondents objected to the adjournment and asked for the proceedings to proceed. Judge Kamal then asked Harvinderjit to argue on behalf of Shafee.
On May 31, Najib filed the application to allow the QC to represent him in the SRC appeal on several grounds, including Laidlaw's special qualifications, experience and expertise which he said were not available among lawyers in Malaysia.
On April 29, the Federal Court set 10 days in August to hear Najib’s appeal against his conviction and jail sentence for the misappropriation of the company’s funds.