Your 10 Questions

  • Business
  • Saturday, 08 May 2010

Karpal SinghPolitician and lawyer answers...

Were the accused in some of the court cases that you have won, including those related to drugs and murder, genuinely innocent? How should a professional lawyer make a stand when taking up cases where the client has committed a crime? Quah, Petaling Jaya

In a criminal trial, there is a presumption of innocence until proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. In the cases I have handled, including those related to drugs and murder, there is no doubt in my mind, the accused were genuinely innocent.

If a client asserts his innocence, it is not for a lawyer to presume his guilt. A lawyer has to abide by his client’s instructions. There are many presumptions in the law in favour of the prosecution. It would be horrendous and unacceptable by any standard for an innocent person to be subjected to the death penalty which is irreversible. Of course, if a client confesses his guilt, there would be a conflict of interest for a lawyer to represent him. He should not do so.

If you were not a lawyer, what would you be? Your children are also lawyers. Is this by design or co-incidence? Lai Ling, KL

It has been my ambition from childhood to be a lawyer, and nothing else, because this profession provides the gateway to the political arena. It is ideal for a lawyer to be a legislator at the same time as he puts into effect in court what is enacted by Parliament. Therefore, the question of what I would be, if I were not a lawyer, does not, and cannot, arise. Period.

Four of my children are lawyers. It was not my will that they pursue the profession of my ambition. In all probability, they were influenced by my work in the legal arena. My fifth child, Mankarpal, has not chosen the legal profession. He is pursuing his ambition in actuarial science.

Malaysian MPs are sometimes ridiculed as being unfit to hold positions in parliament due to their poor debating skills and derogatory remarks. Is this a fair comment? How can things be improved? Neo, Petaling Jaya

There is no educational qualification for one to be an MP. It is possible for a charismatic charlatan to be elected an MP. Adolf Hitler had no qualifications. His charisma enthralled the Germans. It must be admitted that certain MPs are educationally unfit to have been elected.

This accounts for the low quality debate.

In fact, some of these elected representatives, in order to conceal their ignorance, seek refuge in supreme silence. Article 48 of the Federal Constitution should be amended to include basic educational qualifications as a requirement to be a candidate in elections. This will certainly improve the quality of debate and work towards a first world parliament. A first world parliament must, of necessity, have a first world speaker.

You have embarked on a very demanding, and tiring, journey in your career. What exactly are your objectives? What drives you in pursuing them, and how you do to maintain your sanity? Paul, Perak

My objectives are to ensure, as an Opposition MP, that the Government does not tread on the legitimate rights of citizens in the country as housed in the Federal Constitution. It is not an easy job, given that the country still has draconian legislation in the form of the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Sedition Act. These are the swords of Damocles which are an affront to the democratic process.

However, despite these constraints, I have persisted in what I think is right, despite having been detained under the ISA twice and am currently trying to stave off 110 police reports lodged against me since February last year, to say the least of the numerous police reports lodged against me since my advent in the political arena four decades ago. This is probably a world record! I have, of necessity, to maintain my sanity which, without knowing how, I have been able to do so, at least up to now.

How would you define political stability? Amir, Penang

Political stability is the final product of an elected government which has the ability to give every citizen his due without discrimination. It is a government of the day which can effectively provide for political stability. In the final analysis, it is the people who can ensure political stability by ensuring the right party is given the mandate to rule the country. It is people’s power which ensures political stability.

What has been your biggest downfall in life? And how did you get back on your feet again? Janice Lim, Seremban

I was literally grounded on Jan 29, 2005 when the taxi I was in was hit from behind leading to my being thrown about at the back of the taxi. This resulted in excruciating pain along my spine.

The resultant injury led to my being unable to use my arms and legs for some time. I had to thumbprint cheques! I have not fully recovered from that downfall in life and have been confined to a wheelchair since then. However, this has not deterred me from my resolve to get back and get on. I may not have got back on my feet again literally but I have got back to my work and propose to get on with my life. Looking back serves no purpose.

You come across as a person who is angry all the time. Is this perception true, or have you been misunderstood? Why? Shah, KL

This is a perception which is a long way from the truth. I am certainly serious about my profession and as an MP. Both law and politics are vocations which require seriousness. I go for the jugular and I mean business. It is the power of the media which has portrayed me as an angry man. However, ask my colleagues, friends, family and ten grandchildren, and they will assure you that I have a compassionate and humorous side.

In court, what is required is intellectual discourse, towards which I strive, unlike parliament where the atmosphere is entirely different. It is a jungle out there which demands the survival of the fittest. Towards that end, I spare no one. Perhaps, it is this, coupled with my suspensions, which has led to the perception that I am angry all the time.

What would you be doing if you were to retire from law or politics one day? What legacy do hope to leave behind? Robin Chan, Johor Baru

It is highly unlikely that I will retire from law and politics. I would rather die in the saddle. Legacy-wise, I hope that the precedents I have contributed to set in the course of my legal work will be a source of guidance for young lawyers. I had the opportunity in my legal career to have appeared in the Privy Council in London on several occasions.

In 1978, I managed to persuade the Law Lords to declare the draconian Essential Security Cases Regulations, 1975 unconstitutional. That case became a precedent for other cases in the Commonwealth. My political career, I hope, will be a source of inspiration to others who aspire to become politicians. My suspensions should not detract from what I have contributed.

What values do you hold in your capacity as a lawyer and MP? K.K. Leong, Sabah

Adherence to principles is a must for a lawyer and an MP. It has been said in politics, there are no permanent enemies, nor permanent friends but in my view, there must be permanent principles whether in the legal or political fields.

I have made it very clear time and again that party-hopping should be outlawed. In this regard, I have been criticised both by friend and foe. It is a blatant betrayal of the trust of the electorate. Any representative of the people who betrays his constituents by crossing over requires to be treated with the utmost disdain. Certain values like trustworthiness and integrity are fundamental and every human being must, of necessity, abide by them. Any departure from such values deserve the severest condemnation.

How do you juggle your roles as a lawyer, politician and family man? Jerome, Shah Alam

In carrying out my roles as a lawyer, politician and family man, I have managed somehow over the years to reconcile the irreconcilable. It has certainly been a difficult task. A lawyer, in order to be successful, must go beyond the extra mile to be able to effectively defend a client in court. Politics is also a demanding mistress.

I must say, however, that I am more of a lawyer than a politician. Then again, there is the family factor which has to be accounted for. I must admit I have not been able to devote enough time to my family although my ten grandchildren are demanding that I do so, at least to them. In juggling my roles, I have aspired to have the wisdom of a prophet and the agility of an acrobat.

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