Public interest outweighs sub judice, court rules

  • Nation
  • Friday, 20 May 2016

KUALA LUMPUR: The law of contempt cannot be used to curtail public discussion on matters of public importance and interest although the matter may already be the subject of a court action, ruled a High Court here.

In dismissing an application by Umno Youth vice-chief Khairul Azwan Harun, High Court judge Justice S. Nantha Balan said there was no prima facie case for contempt of court.

“The general rule is that the law of contempt cannot be used to curtail public discussion on matters of public importance and public interest albeit that these matters may already be the subject of a court action,” he said in his judgment yesterday.

Khairul Azwan had applied for leave to initiate contempt of court (committal) proceedings against PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli over a defamation suit involving Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) business dealings.

He had argued that by reason of the Pandan MP having published statements and comments in his blog on May 3 – a few hours after the trial for the lawsuit was rescheduled to June 6 – there was a breach of the sub judice rule, resulting in contempt of court.

Justice Nantha Balan said ultimately, the court must be satisfied that the administration of justice had been sullied or compromised by reason of the matters that were published while the defamation case was ongoing.

“I do not see any real and substantial attack on the judiciary, the judicial process or on the person of the judge,” he said, adding that comments on the blog had merely issued “challenges to a debate” about the Mara property purchase issue.

“I do not see how this can be construed as breaching the sub judice rule as debates are a healthy, vibrant and necessary aspect of a maturing democracy and progressive society.

“I should add that on the facts of this case, the public interest element outweighs any argument on sub judice as debates on important public interest should not be stifled or be readily sacrificed on the altar of sub judice,” he said.

Khairul Azwan had sued Rafizi for allegedly defaming him over Mara’s business and property dealings in Australia.

In his suit filed in July last year, Khairul Azwan said Rafizi who is also National Oversight and Whistleblowers executive director, had held a press conference on July 6, 2015, to distribute slanderous and false statements against him.

He is asking for damages, an apology and an injunction to Mohd Rafizi or his representatives from publishing similar defamatory statements.

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