Friday, 5 February 2010

Trial with queer twists baffles lawyers

Christine Chan
Feb 4, 10

After more than a decade, the Malaysian public's daily news diet is once again topped with a large serving of salacious details.

Following the first day of trial, the media had trained its spotlight on Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan and his scandalous revelations about the alleged sexual advances by Anwar Ibrahim.

And just like his first sodomy case in 1999, the ongoing trial, dubbed 'Sodomy II', is drawing much media attention, both locally and abroad.

However, several lawyers expressed puzzlement over the proceedings, arguing that what transpired does not conform with commonly accepted practices.

The in camera testimony, for example, is one such incidence, noted experienced criminal lawyer Richard Wee.

According to him, when it comes to trials concerning sexual offences, it is the prosecutors and not the defence lawyers who would make the request.

Agreeing with this view, former Bar Council chairperson Kuthubul Zaman Bukhari said this is done to protect the victim.

In Anwar's trial, however, it was his lead counsel Karpal Singh who requested for the proceedings to go in camera.

Explaining further, another prominent lawyer who requested anonymity, said: "Conventionally, the defence would want the victim's testimony to be in open court as they would have a chance to expose and discredit him.”

"However, in this case, it seems like Karpal was trying to protect his client's reputation from Saiful's testimony," he added.

Najib, Rosmah issue

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The other issue which raised eyebrows was Anwar's announcement that his defence team would subpoena Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor.

Although the prosecution and the defence have the power to subpoena anyone for the trial, Wee is of the opinion that this call is too premature at this stage.

"The defence would only call up their witnesses during the defence stage, which would be after the prosecution has proven that there is a prima facie case," he said.

Meanwhile, the lawyer who requested anonymity is befuddled by the defence's strategy to have the premier and his wife take the witness stand.

He explained that when a witness is subpoenaed, the lawyer must be sure of what the witness would reveal in court, otherwise it would have an adverse impact on the defence's argument.

"I really do not see how these two witnesses could help prove that Anwar is innocent as they are not eye-witnesses," he added.

Why Saiful first?

Wee, on the other hand, wondered why the prosecution decided to call Saiful as its first witness.

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"This is because the prosecution would usually build up the case by cross-examining secondary witnesses first.

"If the defence lawyers successfully cross-examines the most important witness to the effect that his credibility becomes questionable, then it would adversely affect the entire case (for the prosecution)," he said.

In view of this, Wee said by Saiful taking the stand first, it has created an "irresistible inference among the public that it is a case calculated to humiliate Anwar and sensationalise the trial."

Bar Council secretary George Varughese however saw nothing wrong with this.

"It is perfectly normal for the prosecution to call Saiful as the first witness because he is the complainant," he said.

Furthermore, he added that the sequence as to which witness would testify depends on the prosecutor.

"The prosecutor decides on the order of the witness as a matter of style and considering the expediency of the case," he added.

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