In hearing the news that the Court of Appeal had upheld the High Court’s guilty verdict in Najib Razak’s corruption trial, my immediate concern was for Judge Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil. The guilty verdict that was confirmed called for the highest integrity and courage, which all three judges displayed so admirably, winning our applause.
Why then the concern for Judge Karim?
We are reminded of another judge, none other than High Court Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali, who had on 28 July 2020, living up to the expectations of the judiciary, found Najib guilty of all seven charges of corruption – one count of abuse of power, three counts of criminal breach of trust and three counts of money laundering – involving RM42m of funds from SRC International.
Soon after Judge Nazlan pronounced the guilty verdict, he was transferred from the Criminal Division to the Commercial Division.
There were a lot of allegations against him, vilifying him for his purported lack of experience and incompetence in criminal matters. In upholding his verdict, the Court of Appeal has exonerated him and confirmed his competence as a judge in criminal matters.
An appeal to the Federal Court has been granted – which, in all probability, is expected to cause unnecessary delay, thus keeping Najib from going to prison for as long as possible. We hope this will not drag on for another one-and-a-half years.
Going to the Federal Court would mean that the apex court has to be convinced that points of law have been flouted in Najib’s trial.
But reading through the Court of Appeal’s grounds for upholding the High Court decision will convince many that the evidence and the law have been applied judiciously in finding Najib guilty.
Many Malaysians are wondering whether Judge Nazlan will be transferred back to the Criminal Division. That would be the decent thing to do to remove the unproven, unfair allegations which were hurled at him for his verdict.
His transfer itself was viewed, rightly or wrongly, by many Malaysians as punishment for finding Najib guilty. To right the perceived wrong, Judge Nazlan should be reappointed to the Criminal Division, where he will serve courageously and with integrity.
And to remove any perceived executive interference in matters of the judiciary, Judge Karim should continue to serve in the Criminal Division, where he is suitably qualified to render his service.
Coming back to Najib’s appeal to the Federal Court, the case must be put on the fast lane to avoid any long delay so that it can be concluded as soon as possible. There is a need to expeditiously punish those who have stolen from public coffers and recover whatever part of the loot that is possible.
It was not for nothing that the lionised English writer Walter Savage Landor said, “Delayed justice is as bad as injustice.”