High Court refuses to give Najib day off to attend Parliament

KUALA LUMPUR (July 1): The High Court here has refused to give former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak leave to attend parliament today on the grounds that while he is an MP, he is also facing seven criminal charges.

Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who leads the defence team, asked for a day off from Najib's SRC trial involving the embezzlement of RM42 million of funds, which resumed today after a week's break, as his client wanted to participate in the debate of the bill compelling MPs to declare their assets.

However, after hearing submissions from both parties, High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali refused to grant Najib a day off to attend Parliament.

"I have considered the argument for and against the request for adjournment. The parliamentary session is proceeding for a number of weeks and it's also not certain when voting on any particular important issues will take place.

"This is not a question of the court obstructing the accused from attending parliament [as] he is not prevented from attending [Parliament] whenever court is not in session," Justice Nazlan said when delivering his ruling.

The trial, which had been adjourned after the last hearing on June 20, has entered its 30th day with former SRC director Datuk Mohd Suboh Md Yassin continuing his testimony.

Earlier, Shafee submitted that Najib has a statutory duty to attend Parliament, citing instances where the late DAP leader Karpal Singh and PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had previously asked permission to attend parliament when the former's sedition case and the latter's sodomy case were also heard.

Apart from the asset declaration bill, Shafee said Najib also wished to participate in the debate of the bill on lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.

The senior lawyer then cited Section 9 of the Houses of Parliament (Privileges and Powers) Act 1952, which says it is an offence to obstruct an MP from attending the session.

However, Shafee said while he was not suggesting that the court is obstructing Najib's attendance, the Pekan MP has the right to perform his statutory function.

"This is a reasonable request and this is critical for his participation," he said.

When objecting to the application, Attorney General (AG) Tommy Thomas said the trial is of national and public importance and is going "so slowly".

He stressed that such applications should be considered on a case-by-case basis, and this was the price an MP who is accused of criminal charges has to pay.

Thomas pointed out that the parliament session until July 18 is for the tabling of bills and that voting of bills sometimes takes place after 5pm.

"He sits in the dock as an accused person and is not given any preferential treatment. This is a poor reason. With the greatest respect, we have to give respect to the times given," he said, adding there must be some form of court discipline to ensure the trial progresses smoothly.

He also requested Shafee to clarify what he meant when he mentioned that the court is seen as obstructing an MP if he cannot attend the parliamentary sessions.

The AG further described the application as frivolous and sought for it to be dismissed.

In response, Shafee replied that it was at the court's discretion to grant an adjournment and the motion to debate the bill for MPs to declare their assets only came to their knowledge two days ago.

He also dismissed the notion of voting after 5pm and said Najib wanted to participate in the debate over the bill.

"90% of parliament functions is about the bill and that is what MPs do, [deciding] whether to pass the law," he said.

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