Federal Court may rule even without submissions in Najib’s case, say lawyers

(FMT) – There is a lot of uncertainty about what will happen in Najib Razak’s final appeal over the SRC International Sdn Bhd case following his lawyer’s refusal to make any submissions to defend the former prime minister.

On Friday, Najib’s lead counsel Hisyam Teh Poh Teik informed the five-member bench of the Federal Court, led by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, that he would not be presenting any oral submissions on behalf of his client.

Justice Tengku Maimun, however, said the court will deal with the matter on Tuesday. The court had set Aug 15 to 19 and Aug 23 to 26 to hear the appeal.

Following the latest development, the legal fraternity is of the opinion that the apex court could still make a ruling even if there were no submissions from Najib’s counsel.

Lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla said this was because the court could decide based on the written submissions filed previously by Najib’s defence team at the Court of Appeal last year.

He said it can also be based on the petition of appeal filed by Najib’s previous solicitors on April 25 this year, which stated 94 grounds on why Najib should be acquitted.

“There is enough material before the Federal Court to deliberate upon even in the absence of oral submissions. Hence, there is no way the case will be adjourned,” he said.

Lawyer Lim Wei Jiet also concurred with the same view saying that as the country’s highest court, it will likely decide based on the grounds of appeal in the memorandum of appeal, appeal records as well as the appellate court’s previous submissions by Najib’s defence team.

Meanwhile, Gurdial Singh Nijar was of the opinion that the court might conclude the hearing on that day but would reserve its judgment to a date to be fixed later.

“The decision might be delivered another day,” said the lawyer.

The prosecution led by ad hoc prosecutor V Sithambaram, when wrapping up its submissions on Friday, said the court could proceed to deliberate for a decision in the absence of the former prime minister’s fresh written or oral submissions.

Citing case law, Sithambaram submitted that there was precedent for the court to “proceed accordingly” as the defence had stated that they did not plan to file any fresh submissions for the appeal.

Friday, was the second day of sitting of the panel, which also comprises Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim and Federal Court judges Nallini Pathmanathan, Mary Lim Thiam Suan and Mohamad Zabidin Mohd, to hear Najib’s final appeal to quash his conviction and sentence.

The two days of the proceedings saw many twists one after another. Hisyam had first sought to recuse himself from representing Najib but his request was turned down by the court and it directed the prosecution to submit.

Hisyam on Friday had also told the panel that Najib had discharged his solicitors, Zaid Ibrahim Suflan TH Liew & Partners (ZIST), from representing him.

The lawyer once again asked the court to postpone the hearing to this Thursday as he had other cases on Tuesday and Wednesday, but it was rejected by the court.

On Aug 16, the court had dismissed Hisyam’s application to postpone the appeal hearing and ordered the appeal to proceed on Aug 18.

On July 28, 2020, the then High Court Judge Nazlan Mohd Ghazali, who is now a Court of Appeal judge, sentenced Najib to 10 years’ jail on each of the three counts of criminal breach of trust (CBT) and each of the three counts of money laundering, and 12 years’ jail and a RM210 million fine, in default five years’ jail, in the case of abuse of position.

Last December, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision and dismissed Najib’s appeal to set aside his conviction and jail sentence as well as the fine.