By Danny Wong
SIBU : A High Court judge here yesterday made some startling revelations at the commencement of the proceedings of the election petition filed by the DAP candidate for the Sarikei parliamentary seat, Wong Hus She, to declare the result of the March 8 general election for the seat void. The Barisan Nasional candidate, Ding Kuong Hing, won the seat with a slim majority of 51 votes.
Justice Datuk H C Ian Chin informed the parties in open court that he had certain disclosures to make at the start of the proceedings, saying he was doing so to forestall any complaints that might be made by the parties later.
He said complaints had been made against him in an earlier case that he had failed to disclose the detention of his father and brother during the time of the Mustapha regime in Sabah in late 1969 and the early 1970.
Chin then proceeded to make his disclosure the contents of which could only be described as explosive, coming hot on the heels of the findings of the Royal Commission in the Lingam video tape.
He started by saying that “it is better to err on caution that I take this step to shortly disclose what the parties and counsel may not be aware but which they may later complain that I should have disclosed”.
“I take this course also because I am smarting over the complaint that the detention of my father and brother during the time of the Mustapha regime in Sabah in late 1969 and the early 1970 should have been but not disclosed. (See Sabah Foundation & 2 Ors vs Datuk Syed Kechik & Anor, Kota Kinabalu High Court at ttp://kkhighcourt.com/ Completed Civil Matters/ SabahFoundation.doc)
“What I am going to disclose relate to what happened after two of my judgements were handed down. One was the judgment in a libel case which I handed down on February 5 1997 (see Raveychandran v Lai Su Chon & Ors at http://kkhighcourt.com/Completed Civil Trials/RaveychandranNST.pdf) by which I distinguished MGG Pillai V Tan Sri Dato Vincent Tan Chee Yioun & Other Appeals (1995) 2 MLJ 493 and refused to give what I consider to be astronomical award for damage to reputation in libel cases,” he said.
Chin said the other was the judgement handed down on Feb 13 1997 in respect of an election petition (Donald Lawan v Abang Wahed bin Abang & Ors [Sri Aman High Court]) by which he set aside the election of Mong Dagang.
“Shortly after those two judgements, the Judges Conference was held from April 24 1997.
The then prime minister was scheduled to have a dialogue with the judges on that date. What was termed a dialogue and later reported as one was anything but a dialogue.
“The then prime minister went there to issue a thinly veiled threat to remove judges by referring to the tribunal that was set up before and stating that though it may be difficult to do so, it was still done. He said all that after he had expressed his unhappiness with what he termed ‘the Borneo Case’ and after he had asked whether the judge who decided that case was present or not.”
Chin said no one had any doubt that he was referring to the election case though he (then prime minister) did not mention it specifically which he decided on Feb 13, 1997.
Added the High Court judge: “After he was done with issuing that threat, he then proceeded to express his view that people should pay heavily for libel.
“He managed to get a single response from a Court of Appeal judge who asked whether he would be happy with a sum of RM1 million as damages for libel.
“He approved of it and he later on made known his satisfaction by promoting this judge (since deceased) to the Federal Court over many others who were senior to him when a vacancy arose.
“I was devastated after hearing all that but help came immediately after the “dialogue” was over when Federal Court judges came to my side and asked me to ignore him. Equally comforting were the words of my brother High Court judge who later told me that the then Prime Minister was too much.
“It will be recalled that the then prime minister not long after he assumed office had said, in a much publicised campaign against corruption, that he will put the fear of God in man but this apparently, given his diatribe in that conference, changed to instilling a fear of him if any judgment is to his dislike.”
Chin went on to say that to commemorate his “dialogue” with the judges a group picture was taken (which can be viewed by going to http://www/kkhighcourt.com/ JudgesnMahathir.htm).
To rub it in, he said, Bernama circulated a press release with one appearing in a Sabah newspaper (The Daily Express May 25 1997) which “was far from stating the truth”. A month later, Chin said he was packed off to a boot camp from May 26-30 together with selected judges and judicial officers.
He said that the boot camp was without any doubt “an attempt to indoctrinate those attending the boot camp to hold the view that the government interest as being more important than all else when we are considering our judgement”.
“Stating this devilish notion was by no less a person than the President of the Court of Appeal. Everyone was quiet during the question sessions. Also invited to the boot camp was a lecturer from a university who berated the election case and the bright spot in this episode was that a judicial officer, during question time, told the lecturer that she had no question but only a statement to make which was that the lecturer was in contempt of court.
“The then prime minister was scheduled to talk but he did not turn up and instead sent his then deputy who instead of talking invited questions and the one question I remembered being asked was — Are politicians looking for girls when they are often seen loitering at posh hotel lobbies?
“The perversion of justice did not stop there. My brother judge Kamil Awang was one morning looking for me after clocking in; we were both then serving in Kuching, Sarawak. When I met up with him in his chambers he was distraught and he told me that he had last night received a telephone call from the then Chief Justice asking him to dismiss the election petition that he was going to hear in Kota Kinabalu.
“He sought my opinion as to what to do with the telephone call. “We went into the possibility of making a police report or of writing to the Chief Justice a letter to record what he had said over the telephone but in the end he decided against it since it will be his words against that of the Chief Justice,” he said.
Chin told the court that he was happy to later on learn that Kamil did not bow to the pressure by the Chief Justice and went on to hear the petition and thereafter making a decision based on the law and evidence.
The High Court judge said he had twice stood unsuccessfully as a Barisan Nasional candidate for a parliamentary and later for a state seat in Sabah in the 1980s and in one of those elections he was defeated by a DAP candidate.
He said he had also heard other election petitions, namely Yusuf Abdul Rahman v Abdul Ajis & Ors and Lee Hie Kui v Song Swee Guan & Darrell Tsen.
“Now, though no longer the prime minister and so no longer able to carry out his threat to remove judges which should therefore dispel any fear which any judge may have of him, if ever there was such fear, nevertheless the coalition party that he led is still around and the second respondent won on a ticket of that coalition party and it may cross someone’s mind that I may have an axe to grind against the party concerned or any member thereof.
“The petitioner in this case may also have similar view with regard to my defeat by a candidate standing on the ticket of a party to which he belongs.” So I wish to hear from the parties as to whether they (counsel or parties) in this case entertain any such notion and whether they wish to apply for my recusal so that, if any, I can make a decision thereon.
“After this disclosure, litigants who were affected by the hundreds of judgment that I had handed down since those infamous days may justifiably worry as to whether any of my judgments were in any way influenced by this attempt to hang the Sword of Damocles over my head.
“No amount of words from me would assuage you of your worry; you will have to read my judgments as to whether they are according to the evidence and the law or whether they were influenced by threat.”
Chin then adjourned for half an hour to let the parties digest what he had said and to consider whether they wished to make any application for his recusal.However, they expressed their full confidence in him in presiding over the hearing of the case.