Lawyers and a retired judge have raised questions why Umno lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah (pic) is appearing for the Registrar of Societies (RoS) in a civil action between the department and DAP over the party’s internal polls.
They asked if Shafee was the “new gun for hire” by Putrajaya to take on individuals and organisations against the government.
They said the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC), which is the legal adviser to federal agencies, has an able and competent civil division to represent the RoS.
In fact, they said, traditionally, the AGC had appeared for the RoS and raised eyebrows why was there an exception this time.
DAP lawyer Gobind Singh Deo said he came to know about Shafee being engaged by the RoS during a judicial review application case management exercise before a High Court in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
Gobind said a junior lawyer from Shafee’s legal firm told the court registrar that the RoS had approached the senior lawyer to obtain his service.
DAP, the leading opposition party in Malaysia, is challenging the RoS for its failure to recognise its office-bearers elected last September.
It held a second round of party elections about nine months later following RoS instructions to hold fresh polls.
A retired judge said the AGC had excellent federal counsel like Amarjeet Singh, Alice Loke and Narkunavathi Sundareson to conduct civil cases.
“I am unable to see why they are inadequate to handle the matter unless it was a political battle between DAP and Barisan Nasional,” said the ex-judicial officer who declined to be identified.
He said getting a lawyer reflected badly on the ability of the civil division of the AGC.
Former Bar council chairman Ragunath Kesavan said nothing in law stated that only a federal counsel must represent a government agency in a civil dispute.
He said only in a criminal case, the attorney general, who is also public prosecutor, acted for the state as public interest was involved.
“However, the Criminal Procedure Code empowers the public prosecutor to issue a fiat to a lawyer to conduct criminal cases on behalf the state,” he said.
The recent example was the appointment of Shafee as ad hoc deputy public prosecutor to lead the prosecution team which finally persuaded an appellate court to overturn the acquittal of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy.
Ragunath, however, said the question that begged an answer was why Shafee was appointed in this civil dispute.
Senior lawyer Karpal Singh said the Government Proceedings Act 1956 provided for the retaining of a lawyer by the attorney general to represent a federal officer in civil proceedings.
“However, that provision should only be invoked in exceptional cases where the expertise required is not available in the AGC,” said the former DAP national chairman and incumbent Bukit Gelugor MP.
Lawyer Datuk N. Sivananthan asked why taxpayers’ money be used to pay a private counsel when there was an AGC.
“In any event, if a lawyer is to be appointed, it should be with the consent of the attorney general,” he said, adding that the legal fee paid to Shafee must be disclosed.
Sivananthan asked whether the AGC was going to dish out criminal and civil cases to lawyers based on the recent trend of appointing Shafee in criminal and civil cases.
“An unhealthy precedent is being set,” he added.
Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen said the Malaysian AGC was well staffed with abundant resources and there was no reason to seek the aid of a lawyer.
“It raises a further question on what special expertise Shafee has that the entire AGC does not possess,” he said.
Paulsen the public could not be faulted with having the perception that public resources and agencies were used to eliminate those seen as anti-establishment.
“Shafee’s appointment to represent the RoS against DAP will be seen in a negative light.”
Attempts to get response from Attorney General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail and director-general of RoS Mohammad Razin Abdullah drew a blank. – April 11, 2014.
BY V. ANBALAGAN, The Malaysian Insider