The Malaysian Bar welcomes the decision of the Court of Appeal to set aside the contempt of court order issued against Sarawakian lawyer, Shankar Ram Asnani (“Shankar”). The Kuching High Court had on 12 January 2021 cited Shankar for contempt in the face of court as he was allegedly one month late in filing his bundle of documents. On 18 March 2021, the Court of Appeal reversed the learned Judicial Commissioner’s decision and quashed Shankar’s contempt of court order. The Malaysian Bar is heartened by the decision of the Court of Appeal, as contempt of court is a very serious charge that should be exercised with an abundance of caution.
Lawyers are partners in the administration of justice and we seek the understanding of the Judiciary to avoid citing a lawyer for contempt for procedural shortcomings in the conduct of matters. The initial contempt charge brought upon Shankar would have had serious ramifications on the conduct and practice of lawyers, particularly for litigators who regularly face time constraints and complications due to the uncertainties and volatility of their cases. Citing contempt of court for non-conformance of procedure may put unnecessary pressure on lawyers. This could potentially hinder their ability to act in the best interests of their clients.
While we understand that the Courts must have some authority to punish those in contempt in order to protect the integrity of the judicial process, this should be done sparingly and only in the most deserving cases. The lack of specific laws to deal with contempt of court cases creates a lacuna in our legal system, and codification of the law is necessary to provide a clearer understanding of this vague legal concept.
The Malaysian Bar strongly supports and reiterates its call to the Government for the codification of the law of contempt. We are ready to work closely with the Government and stakeholders to provide our input, to be torchbearers, in the realisation of this goal.
A G KALIDAS
26 March 2021