(Used by permission)
by Chua Sue–Ann
The royal commission of inquiry into the Lingam Tape scandal was put ‘on trial’ today with lawyers debating its terms of reference in relation to the admissibility of evidence not directly related to the issue of judicial appointments in 2001.
The evidence they contested related to details of a holiday lawyer VK Lingam took with former Chief Justice Eusoff Chin in New Zealand in December 1994 which supposedly illustrates the close relationship between the two.
Yesterday, Lingam – the lawyer allegedly featured in a secretly–filmed video clip in 2001 discussing the appointment of judges – refused to answer further questions about the said holiday.
His lawyer R Thayalan had submitted that the evidence pertaining to the holiday was ‘irrelevant’ and should be expunged from the hearing.
Proceedings today resumed with lawyers making submissions on the relevance of the New Zealand holiday in relation to the inquiry’s five–point terms of reference.
Representing the Bar Council, Robert Lazar argued that the issue before the commission was not limited only to the appointment of judges but involved the full context of the conversation featured in the video clip. This included how judicial decisions were arrived at, he said.
“The fixing of cases goes hand–in–hand with the fixing of judicial appointments. (We) can’t separate (these issues),” he said.
“I will be impolite and say it’s the fixing of judges, fixing of appointments and the conversation also relates to the fixing of decisions of cases. That is what the conversation is about.
“We cannot put on blinkers thinking that only judges are fixed and that it ends there,” he said.
‘Fixing of cases’
Lazar argued this when referring to the commission’s third term of reference which is to ascertain the veracity of the conversation recorded in the video clip.
Lazar pointed out that there were specific events referred to in the telephone conversation that suggested an intention to influence judicial appointments, of favourable treatment under certain judges and less desirable treatments under other judges.
When commissioner Steve Shim questioned if Lazar was attempting to widen the scope of the inquiry, the latter replied that the issues at hand went beyond just judicial appointments.
“What we’re really looking at is not (only) the appointment of judges but also the fixing of cases and other consequences,” he said.
Counsel Kamarul Hisham Kamaruddin, representing former Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim, also sought to exclude details of the 1994 holiday.
Kamarul cited the Evidence Act as a guide to what was admissible but Shim told him that the commission was not bound by the Act.
Counsel then said that while evidence of the New Zealand vacation may imply a closeness between the two parties involved, it would not necessarily mean judicial misconduct had been committed.
At this juncture, commissioner Mahadev Shankar reminded Kamarul that there may be other important evidences that have yet to be produced to the commission.
Kamarul said he remained open to the possibility of further evidence suggesting links between Eusoff and Lingam which could have resulted in judicial brokering.
“I realise that evidence has not come out yet but when it does, perhaps the commissioners may make the necessary inferential exercise to make it relevant,” Kamarul said.
Counsel Alex de Silva representing Loh Gwo Burne – the man who admitted to filming the controversial video clip in 2001 – said he was in favour of retaining evidence of the New Zealand holiday as there has not been evidence otherwise.
“The New Zealand holiday shows closeness ... there could well be presumption that they were still close in 2001 unless evidence suggests otherwise,” he said.
Other counsel who made their brief submissions today on whether the commission should accept details of the New Zealand vacation were Anwar Ibrahim’s lawyer M Puravalen, former chief justice Dzaiddin Abdullah’s lawyer Khoo Guan Huat, civil society groups’ legal representative Azhar Azizan Harun and Lingam’s estranged brother Thirunama Karasu’s (counsel John Fang.
Eusoff Chin’s (pix, left) newly–appointed counsel Zamani Ibrahim, Hazman Ahmad and Mohamed Fauzi Mat Zain will make their submissions on Friday.
Wee Choo Keong, representing Thirunama, today made repeated attempts to make a verbal submission despite his written submission but was rejected by the commission after a heated exchange with chairperson Haidar Mohamed Noor.
Wee reluctantly sat down after Shim advised him to make his oral submissions based on the relevant parts of his client’s evidence which the commission will point out in due time.
(Used by permission)