Muhammad Shafee: A lawyer of many hats


Lawyer Datuk Seri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.

KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Seri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah is a man of many talents - and he showed it by being defence counsel and prosecutor, all in one day.

While this often occurs in England, it hardly happens here.

In his natural role as an Advocate and Solicitor of the High Court of Malaya on Tuesday, he was counsel for Aussie Dominic Bird who was fighting for bail in the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya.

In the Sodomy II appeal before another panel, however, Muhammad Shafee stood at the other end of the Bar table as a Deputy Public Prosecutor.

Muhammad Shafee, who graduated in 1977, admits in an interview: “When I left the Attorney-General’s Chambers in 1983, we were still wearing wigs in court!”

His claim that his practice, unlike most lawyers, is equally divided between civil and criminal work, is evident.

Even before his graduation and career at the AGC’s, he had tried his hand at prosecution during a US State Department fellowship which had him on attachment for several weeks at a national college for district attorneys in Houston, Texas.

During his time in Chambers, he had also served on an ad-hoc basis as Federal Counsel to the Home Ministry.

He won several cases dealing with murder, drug-trafficking, gun possession and criminal breach of trust, among others, but quit in 1983 and was called to the Bar in 1985.

It’s a good thing both lawyers and prosecutors here wear the same gown or Muhammad Shafee would have needed time for a wardrobe change in between successfully getting Bird out on bail in one court and failing in challenging Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s application to recuse Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat in another Court of Appeal. (The judge recused herself after submissions.)

In both cases, the prosecution is appealing against their losses - Bird, 34, escaped the death penalty when the High Court acquitted him of drug trafficking on Sept 4; and Anwar was acquitted on Jan 9 last year of allegedly sodomising his former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan in 2008.

On Wednesday, Muhammad Shafee’s first real challenge is whether the court will allow Anwar’s application to recuse him as DPP. However, instead of challenging his appointment or prosecutorial skills, Anwar’s argument is that Muhammad Shafee was a potential prosecution witness.

Muhammad Shafee said DPP Datuk Mohamad Hanafiah Zakaria would defend his appointment as lead prosecutor in the Government’s appeal.

“I’ll interject if I think I need to answer some points,” he added.
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