KUALA LUMPUR, July 21 — The High Court today dismissed an application by Queen’s Counsel Jonathan James Laidlaw to represent Datuk Seri Najib Razak in the latter’s final appeal against his conviction for misappropriating RM42 million belonging to SRC International Sdn Bhd.
High Court judge Datuk Ahmad Kamal Md Shahid said while it was undeniable that Laidlaw is deemed a ‘star silk’ in financial crimes, he said this alone does not mean the latter possesses special skills, expertise, qualifications and knowledge on the application of criminal laws in Malaysia which are relevant to Najib’s appeal before the Federal Court on August 15.
Among laws the judge cited were the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act, the Penal Code, and the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act (Amla), involving charges of which Najib was convicted.
Ahmad Kamal then said he is of the view that local advocates and solicitors are more than capable of handling such cases at all tiers of the court in the country, before further stating as unjustifiable the need to have Laidlaw be admitted on an ad hoc basis.
“Having regard to all the facts in the supporting affidavits, it is my considered judgment that the applicant has failed to satisfy me under Section 18(1) of the Legal Profession Act that for the purpose of the appeal and all other courses related to the matter; thereto, he has special qualifications or experience of a nature not available amongst advocates and solicitors in Malaysia.
“I agree with the honourable attorney general, the learned deputy public prosecutor, KL Bar Committee, the Malaysian Bar and the KL Bar Committee that the appeal is one that can quite competently be handled by local advocates and solicitors.
“As such, the originating motion in enclosure one is hereby dismissed,” he said while delivering his verdict.
While acknowledging the existence of novel issues and points of law in the case, Ahmad Kamal said these were still subject to judicial determination based on Malaysian law.
“To me, this novelty does not automatically render them complex, justifying the need for the ad hoc admission of the Queen’s Counsel, since doing so would implicitly suggest that our local advocates and solicitors, including the appellant’s counsel and his team, are not known to the local laws nor flexible and malleable to the changes and development of the law,” he said.
Ahmad Kamal also cited a similar case involving Cherie Blair QC (known professionally as Cherie Booth) whose service was engaged for commercial dispute and bid for ad-hoc admission was turned down.
In a unanimous decision, the Federal Court dismissed Booth’s application, stating that Booth had not demonstrated she had special qualifications and experience of a nature not available amongst advocates and solicitors in Malaysia.
“The applicant in this present originating motion did not represent the appellant during trial before the High Court nor during the appeal before the Court of Appeal.
“This raises a doubt on the extent of argument raised by the applicant would assist the Federal Court in their decision making if the ad hoc admission of the applicant in Malaysia as the senior counsel of appellant is allowed,” Ahmad Kamal added.
Also present during today’s proceedings were ad hoc prosecutor, Datuk V. Sithambaram — who is leading the prosecution in Najib’s SRC International case — and lawyer Rahmat Hazlan for Laidlaw.
Senior federal counsel Shamsul Bolhassan represented the AG, who is a party to the proceedings.
Lawyers Datuk Gurdial Singh Nijar and Datuk Bastian Vendargon appeared for the KL Bar Committee and the Malaysian Bar respectively.
The Federal Court is scheduled to hear Najib’s SRC appeal over a period of 10 days from August 15 to August 19, and from August 22 to August 26.
On December 8, 2021, the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction and 12-year prison sentence as well as an RM210 million fine imposed against Najib for misappropriating RM42 million in SRC funds.
Justice Datuk Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil, who presided with fellow judges Datuk Has Zanah Mehat and Datuk Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera, unanimously dismissed Najib’s appeal against the High Court’s decision on July 28, 2020.
The Federal Court is Najib’s final avenue of appeal against his conviction and sentence.