Beware of contempt of court, public warned

KUALA LUMPUR: The Johor Baru magistrate’s court’s decision to free a woman from a charge of causing the deaths of eight teenage “basikal lajak” riders in 2017, has ignited a firestorm of controversy online.Social media was awash with comments, with a number of people expressing outrage at the decision and lashing out at the judiciary, while others defended the verdict based on the facts of the case.Legal experts have cautioned social media users against going overboard with their comments as it may just land them in trouble with the authorities.Prominent lawyer Nizam Bashir said unfounded remarks or accusations against the institution can be a basis for contempt of court.“The law is not meant to stop criticism, but it should be given rationally. Extremely rude comments or accusations, say accusing court officials of being corrupt, are basis for contempt of court.”He was citing the example of one Facebook commenter, who had lambasted the judge presiding the case. The commenter had also falsely claimed that the accused was drunk while driving.Nizam said in this case, besides contempt of court, the person could also face legal action under the Communications and Multimedia Act.He said in Malaysia, contempt of court proceedings are normally initiated after a party lodges a complaint by filing an application for leave (to obtain the court’s permission).“If the court grants leave, a show-cause order would be issued to the (violating) person in contempt of court. The court could also initiate the proceedings.”He said criticisms of a judge or court may be punished if it “scandalises the court”.“This form of contempt of court is applicable at any time, as its aim is more general — to prevent the undermining of public confidence in the administration of justice.“Traditionally, it is used where there has been either ‘scurrilous abuse’ of a judge or court; or an imputation of bias or partiality made against a judge or court. It could also be used when there is an imputation that a judge or court has been influenced by outside pressures, including corruption and improper motives.” Lawyer Syahredzan Johan said while the public is allowed criticism, they must be aware that it did not allow them to commit contempt of court.“There must be a clear line that people should not cross when it comes to court decisions. For example, they can criticise the decision but they should not go on to say that the judge was bribed or was stupid for making that decision.“There should be a valid reason for their remarks.“I think this is something that our society is unfamiliar with,” said Syahredzan, who is also the political secretary of Iskandar Puteri member of parliament Lim Kit Siang.Syahredzan said the public should not blindly interpret or assume the news headline before reading the initial report.

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