Since Karpal’s arrest on 12th January 2000 for sedition in connection with his defence of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, DAP had repeatedly called on the Attorney-General to drop the charge to enhance the reputation of Malaysia's system of justice and as a mature civil society and to avoid the adverse effects undermining Malaysia's attractiveness as an investment centre.
The prosecution of Karpal under the Sedition Act punishable with three years' jail for comments he made in court while acting as the lead defence counsel in the sodomy trial of Anwar Ibrahim had been a scandal and outrage for the Malaysian system of justice, marking a grave setback from its painful emergence from the judicial Dark Age when it was the scorn of national and international legal and judicial community as well as world opinion.
DAP had warned that the prosecution of a lawyer for comments in court will cause irreparable injury to justice as it is unprecedented in the Commonwealth and in Common Law where it is "an established and entrenched principle and rule of law" that lawyers enjoy absolute privilege for all statements during legal proceedings.
It also runs counter to international law, which guarantees lawyers' immunity in Article 20 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
This is why there was such a galaxy of eminent legal luminaries from various Commonwealth countries in the Kuala Lumpur High Court this morning to be observers in Karpal’s trial.
The decision of the new Attorney-General Datuk Abdul Gani Patail to exercise his discretion to discontinue the sedition charge against Karpal has come as a total but pleasant surprise, and has won for Gani the grudging approval of members of the legal profession who are up in arms at the dangerous precedent being set in Malaysia not only for the country but for the Commonwealth to prosecute a lawyer for carrying out his professional duties to defend his client in a criminal trial.
It is a good start for Gani as the new Attorney-General although I stand by every word I had said challenging the propriety and wisdom - but not his capabilities - of his appointment. One swallow however does not make spring. Malaysians want to see whether Karpal’s case is the isolated “swallow” or marks the spring-time of justice and full restoration of public confidence in the professionalism and non-politicisation of the office of Attorney-General.
The Constitution never intended the Attorney-General to be the prosecutor of the ruling coalition to victimise and oppress the Opposition or dissent - which must be regarded as an integral part of the Malaysian political and nation-building process who must be fully respected, honoured and protected by the Attorney-General.
Gani should review all controversial cases, whether still not-yet-heard or part-heard, and to withdraw all prosecutions which had plunged the administration of justice into a crisis of confidence, nationally and internationally.
DAP is concerned, however, that Karpal’s case is not fully over, as he has been referred to the Advocates and Solicitors’ Disciplinary Board for allegedly making contemptuous statements against Justice Paul Augustine during preliminary arguments on the presence of observers from the international legal community for his trial and is studying the implications and propriety of the judge’s statements on contempt of court.