AG discretion is not absolute: Public deserves an explanation on why charges are dropped, says lawyer [NSTTV]

KUALA LUMPUR: The Attorney-General's Chambers (A-GC) should provide an explanation when it decides to drop and no longer prosecute an accused person, particularly if it involves a public figure. 

Senior criminal lawyer Datuk Sri Dr Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos said that although it is very common for charges to be withdrawn or for DNAAs (dismissal not amounting to acquittal) to be granted, it is important that the public is informed why a certain course of action is taken.

Jahaberdeen, who was on NST's talk show Beyond the Headlines, said that there are two reasons why the public must be informed.

"There are two reasons why you should be explaining this to the public. For one, you do not want the judiciary to be blamed for nothing, and two, you want to rest assured that we do not simply drop a charge. We have reasons to drop the charges...we had probably public interest in our minds," he said.

Jahaberdeen further explained that while it is the rule of law to either take up the position to explain the decision behind the acquittal or not, it is also how you manage such rule of law. He said that these charges are high-profile cases, and they involve politicians.

"The public is watching. As for managing the rule of law, it falls on the shoulders of people like Tengku Maimun, people like the A-GC from the A-GC office and the head of MACC, etc. There are certain occasions where they need to come out to the public to explain and restore the public's confidence," he said.

Echoing Jahaberdeen's sentiments was NST executive editor Sharanjit Singh, who said that it was a no-brainer to understand why the public is so angry.

"If you look at the criticisms being levelled at the decisions to drop the charges, you'll see that the public is outraged. They want to know why certain decisions are made and why it was taken to drop the charges," he said.

"After all the hype, people are expecting a good outcome. But at the height of it all, the A-GC suddenly decided to drop everything. And of course, people will start wondering if this is a kangaroo court," he said.

Sharanjit also added that, ultimately, all the blame went to the judiciary.

"Inevitably, the blame goes to the judiciary, which has no say in the decision to drop the charges and so on," he said.

Sharanjit drew examples from past cases involving the then-Penang chief minister, Lim Guan Eng, and the 12 suspects of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) case. In both cases, the AGs decided to drop their charges.

"The AG issued a statement to explain why he decided to drop those charges to appease the public. Now, if you have a situation where the A-GC says that he doesn't need to give a reason, then people can assume that there was no reason to drop the charges in the first place," he said.

According to Sharanjit, in this age of credibility and accountability, one needs to live up to that. "As Lawyers for Liberty said, in a democracy, that is expected. Otherwise, you are heading towards despotism," he said.

Recently, the judiciary has faced criticism recently when concerns were raised about its independence.

This was after a public outcry against the A-GC over its repeated discharging of high-profile cases involving politicians, which later prompted scrutiny on the integrity of government powers.

Reactions from Lawyers for Liberty's director, Zaid Malek, added more fuel to the fire when he expressed his disappointment over a statement made by Attorney-General (A-G) Datuk Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh at the opening ceremony of the legal year.

Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat then reminded the lower courts to adhere to the precedents established by the higher courts.

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