PUTRAJAYA, Aug 18 — Lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik today applied to the Federal Court to discharge himself from representing Datuk Seri Najib Razak as lead counsel in the former prime minister's final appeal against his conviction of misappropriating funds from SRC International Sdn Bhd if the defence's request for adjournment is not granted.
At the start of proceedings today, Hisyam apologised to the five-judge panel in the Federal Court and emphasised the need for sufficient time for the defence to prepare its arguments in relation to the scope and appeal of the present case.
This follows an earlier verdict by the same court in dismissing a request by Najib's defence to grant an adjournment and delay the hearing by another “three to four months”, which Hisyam said the lawyers needed to prepare their case after being appointed at the eleventh hour.
He had argued that the SRC International case is not “ordinary” and the defence team’s postponement request was made in good faith.
The same five-judge panel, led by Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, delivered the unanimous ruling on Tuesday.
“It was an error of judgment on my part to have accepted the brief. However, I had expected the court to grant an adjournment given the breadth and scope of this appeal,” Hisyam said at the onset of today's hearing.
In reply, Tengku Maimun reiterated the court will not be reviewing its decision on refusing adjournment and that nothing has changed since.
“We reiterated those grounds by refusing this request and you are saying you want to disqualify yourself?” Tengku Maimun asked Hisyam.
She further asked if he agreed that the Federal Court as the superior court has inherent jurisdiction to ensure it could function properly, and that includes making sure the judicial process works in an orderly and effective manner.
Tengku Maimun: And as counsel you are a key actor in the administration of justice and the court has authority to exercise some control when necessary to protect its process. Do you accept that?
Hisyam: I accept, yes.
Tengku Maimun: But do you still want to discharge yourself and leave your client unrepresented?
Tengku Maimun then asked Hisyam if he was aware of the consequences if he did not proceed with the appeal, to which the latter replied he knew but maintained that he was unprepared to proceed further.
Tengku Maimun reminded Hisyam that as counsel, he still needs the court’s permission to discharge himself and should not just walk away and leave his client unrepresented, after agreeing to the appointment.
“Counsel should not just walk away leaving their client unrepresented having taken a representation.
“So to our minds you ought not discharge yourself but you should carry on. We are confident you can manage,” she said.
The court later stood down for a two-hour recess after Hisyam insisted he was unable to proceed with the appeal hearing.
Najib was previously represented by Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah from the law firm Shafee & Co in both the High Court and Court of Appeal; but the latter was abruptly discharged last month.
On July 26, law firm Zaid Ibrahim Suflan TH Liew & Partners notified the apex court of its appointment as solicitors and that of Hisyam as lead counsel.
Leading the prosecution is ad hoc prosecutor Datuk V. Sithambaram who was assisted by deputy public prosecutors Donald Joseph Franklin, Sulaiman Kho Kheng Fuei, Mohd Ashrof Adrin Kamarul and Manjira Vasudevan.
The other four judges on the bench were Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim, Federal Court judges Datuk Nallini Pathmanathan, Datuk Mary Lim Thiam Suan and Datuk Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah.
The Court of Appeal had on December 8, 2021 upheld the High Court’s July 2020 verdict and sentence of 12 years in prison and a fine of RM210 million meted against Najib.
Najib had been found guilty of one count of abuse of power, three counts of criminal breach of trust, and three counts of money laundering.
Hearing in the country’s supreme court has been scheduled to take place over nine days, starting August 15 till August 19 and will resume after this weekend on August 23 until August 26.
The case is now at the Federal Court and it is Najib’s last chance to convince the judges his conviction and punishment should be overturned.