PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court today allowed lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah’s appeal over his defamation suit against the Malaysian Bar and two others on attempts to discuss his conduct as deputy public prosecutor (DPP) in Anwar Ibrahim’s Sodomy II case at its annual general meeting in 2015.
Judge Abdul Rahman Sebli, who delivered the judgment of a three-member bench, said the Bar, lawyers Tommy Thomas and VC George were liable for their actions.
However, he said only the Bar has to pay damages since it is a statutory body under the Legal Profession Act.
“We are not making a similar order against Thomas and George as they are not statutory bodies,” he said.
Thomas was the attorney-general from June 2018 to February 2020 while George was a High Court and Court of Appeal judge from 1981 to 1995.
Both are/were lawyers when they submitted a resolution to discuss Shafee’s misconduct at the AGM and to ask the incoming committee to refer the matter to the Advocates and Solicitors Disciplinary Board.
The bench, consisting of Rohana Yusuf and Vernon Ong, has reverted the matter to the High Court for assessment of damages.
Rahman said the Bar had no authority to discuss the conduct of lawyers at an AGM as that matter came under the purview of the board.
“Every complaint against lawyers must be referred to the board and it must not go through the Bar AGM,” he said.
Rahman said, historically, disciplinary matters were with the Bar but from April 1, 1982 it came under the jurisdiction of the board.
He said Thomas and George, as senior lawyers, should know that any allegation of misconduct against another fellow counsel should be referred to the board.
“Actually, they wanted him condemned at the AGM before the matter was referred to the board,” Rahman added.
He said the Bar breached the law when it publicised on its website the motion from the two lawyers.
“It is unfair and prejudging his guilt as the matter is now before the board,” he added.
Rahman said Section 99 of the Act (Legal Profession Act) is very clear that any complaint against a lawyer or pupil must first be referred to the board.
“That provision must be construed strictly and narrowly,” he added.
On May 26, 2016, the Kuala Lumpur High Court dismissed Shafee’s suit and the Court of Appeal upheld the decision.
Shafee claimed that on Feb 28, 2015, Thomas had published and submitted a motion for discussion at the AGM on March 14, 2015.
The motion was seconded by George.
It was about Shafee’s conduct as DPP in Anwar’s sodomy appeal in the Federal Court, claiming that he (Shafee) had violated the legal profession’s rules which prohibited lawyers from publicising themselves.
The motion also alleged Shafee had participated in nationwide roadshows with the purpose of insulting a convicted prisoner and for bringing attention to his role in Anwar’s conviction.
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