PUTRAJAYA: The Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 majority decision Monday, has upheld the sedition conviction of the late Karpal Singh, ruling that it was a serious offence involving the sovereignty of a ruler and his prerogative powers.
The Court, however, reduced the quantum of his fine from RM4,000 to RM1,800.
Justice Datuk Mohtarudin Baki, who chaired a three-member panel, said the statements Karpal made were very disrespectful of a Ruler of a State and suffice to constitute an offence under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act 1948.
In his 24-page judgment, Justice Mohtarudin also found that the statements by the appellant (Karpal) did not fall under Section 3(2)(a) of the Act as they were far-fetched from only showing that the Ruler had been misled or mistaken in dissolving the State Assembly and appointing a new mentri besar.
He made the ruling after dismissing Karpal's appeal over his sedition conviction. Justice Datuk Kamardin Hashim agreed with Justice Mohtarudin while Justice Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat dissented.
On Feb 21, 2014, Karpal was found guilty of sedition and fined RM4,000 by the High Court for questioning the Sultan of Perak's action in removing Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin as the mentri besar of Perak in 2009.
At Monday's hearing, Justice Mohtarudin allowed Karpal's appeal against the sentence and reduced the fine from RM4,000 to RM1,800 in default two months jail.
"It is most difficult to make this ruling (on sentence) but, in view of the DPP's submission, we set aside the fine of RM4,000 and substitute it with a fine of RM1,800," he said, adding that he had known Karpal for a very long time, since 1978 when he was a magistrate in Alor Setar.
In his judgment, Justice Mohtarudin also held that the conviction against Karpal was safe and he clearly had intentions in making such statements which had a seditious tendency within Section 3(1)(a, (d) and (f) of the Sedition Act.
"It was never denied that the appellant (Karpal) had acted in his capacity as a Member of Parliament and had given a legal opinion based on his knowledge that he had in the legal field.
"However, it is noteworthy that in making any statement, especially in a press conference against the Ruler and his prerogative powers, one has responsibility to be absolutely sure that it has no seditious tendency as laid out by Section 3(1) of the Act," said Justice Mohtarudin.
The judge said that the appellant's continuous and repeated averments that the Ruler has no power and that he was not immune from being taken to court only showed that he had crossed the line between uttering words that are legally permitted and ones that have a seditious tendency.
He stressed that it was unreasonable for Karpal, who was from a legal background with vast knowledge of constitutional law, to have come up with such statements.
Tengku Maimun, in her dissenting ruling, had set aside Karpal's conviction and held that the trial judge had failed to appreciate Karpal's sworn evidence over his defence in relation to his statements.
"The High Court has failed to look at the appellant's defence independently," she said, adding that Karpal's statements were merely his legal opinion of public interest.
Earlier, in mitigation to have the sentence reduced, lawyer Ramkarpal Singh said Karpal, who was his father, had contributed immensely to the development of Malaysian law, particularly in the area of criminal and Constitutional law.
DPP Awang Amardajaya Awang Mahmud had asked for an appropriate sentence, saying Karpal had crossed the limit of the Sedition Act.
On Nov 10, 2014, the Court of Appeal allowed Karpal's widow Gurmit Kaur, who is the administrator of her late husband's estate, to proceed with the appeal against conviction and RM4,000 fine for sedition imposed by the High Court.
Karpal was the Bukit Gelugor MP when he lost his life at 73 in a road accident along the North-South Expressway near Gua Tempurung, Perak, on April 17, 2014.
Lawyer Gobind Singh Deo, who also represented Karpal, said he welcomed the ruling and added that his mother would now be entitled to his father's pension and other benefits as the Bukit Gelugor MP.
Article 48(1)(e) of the Federal Constitution states that an MP would be disqualified if he or she is sentenced to a jail term of more than a year or fined more than RM2,000. - Bernama