Sarawak Report defamation suit: Transfer application first, legal questions later, says High Court

KUALA LUMPUR: The High Court here has directed for an application by Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown, to transfer her criminal defamation case from the Magistrate's Court to the High Court, to be heard and disposed of first before referring her legal questions relating to the case to the Federal Court.

Justice Mohamed Zaini Mazlan said Rewcastle-Brown's application to refer her two legal questions on the constitutionality of her criminal charges to the Federal Court was "premature" in his ruling here on Friday (Aug 12).

ALSO READ: It was an honest mistake, says Rewcastle-Brown over book passage

On Sept 23, last year, Rewcastle-Brown was charged in absentia in a Terengganu Magistrate's Court under Section 500 of the Penal Code for allegedly criminally defaming the Terengganu Sultanah through contents of a book on the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

She was accused of having defamed the Terengganu Sultanah, through a line on page three of Rewcastle-Brown’s book "The Sarawak Report: The Inside Story of the 1MDB Exposé" that had mentioned "the wife of the Sultan".

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On March 28, this year, she filed an application to transfer the case to the Kuala Lumpur High Court, citing reasons that she would not have a fair and impartial trial at the lower court as the complainant in the case was the Sultan of Terengganu himself.

In her supporting affidavit, she said the Sultan was the ruler in the state who wielded considerable influence and there was potential pressure or unwarranted influence to "ensure" a conviction against her.

In the same application, Rewcastle-Brown sought to quash the charge against her on the basis that the charge was mala fide (bad intention), malicious in nature, an abuse of court's process, contemptuous, and an abuse of prosecutorial powers.

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Before the application could be heard before Justice Mohamed Zaini, Rewcastle-Brown however applied to refer her two questions to the apex court.

"Although the applicant's application for transfer is patently fixed for hearing in this court, the (transfer) application has yet to be judged.

"The court has not decided whether to allow the case against the applicant to be transferred and heard in the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

"In layman's terms, the applicant's application is still 'in transit'," Justice Mohamed Zaini said.

Should the applicant succeed in transferring her case to the High Court, the judge said Rewcastle-Brown could then make the application to refer her legal questions under Section 84 of the Court of Judicature Act (CJA) 1964 in that particular court.

"I am therefore directing that the application to transfer be heard and disposed of first without prejudice to the applicant's application under Section 84 of the CJA.

"The applicant is at liberty to make the same application if her case is transferred to the High Court," he said.

ALSO READ: Court dismisses stay application in Terengganu Sultanah’s defamation suit against Rewcastle-Brown

Rewcastle-Brown was represented by lawyer Guok Ngek Seong.

Deputy public prosecutors Noor Haslinda Che Seman and Nadia Zulkefli appeared for the prosecution while Datuk Rajpal Singh held a watching brief for the Sultanah.

Rewcastle-Brown's book is also the subject of a defamation lawsuit filed by the Sultanah on Nov 21, 2018. Other defendants are publisher Gerakbudaya Enterprise and printer Vinlin Press Sdn Bhd.

The Sultanah is seeking general damages of RM100mil from each defendant, among others. The lawsuit is currently in its hearing stage.

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