Lawyers and law makers must ensure justice for Sabahans, compliance with MA63

KOTA KINABALU, Tuesday, 3 April 2018: COMMENT - It is shocking that a local Sabah newspaper has to defend itself in a court in Putrajaya over a publication concerning an incident that occurred in Sabah. This is another serious breach of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 that provided for separate jurisdictions of the courts in Malaya and in Sabah and Sarawak.     

For that matter, it is hugely unfair and prejudicial to anyone in Sabah to have to conduct the defence of any litigation in courts of law outside Sabah over something that occurred in Sabah.

Although the case affects a local daily newspaper, the direct implications to all other Sabah persons or companies or associations or any other legal entities in Sabah are serious. Anyone in Sabah can be sued in a court in Negeri Negeri Tanah Melayu or Sarawak over something that was said, published or done in Sabah.

The vulnerability to legal suits from other parts of Malaysia affects not only newspapers. Bearing in mind that the courts in Putrajaya has ruled that they may hear the cases against Daily Express, a Sabah local paper, the same law (if it remains unchanged) means that any Facebook user, any Twitter, any website, any blogger, any news portal and any person whose statements having been reported in social media (internet) in Sabah face the threat of be sued in a court outside Sabah simply because the social media (internet) is accessible in other parts of Malaysia.

It is a scary prospect that anyone in Sabah can be dragged to a court of law in KL, Putrajaya, Penang, Kuala Terengganu, Muar, Kuantan, Johore Bahru, Kota Bahru, Malacca, Shah Alam, Kuching and so on over something that was said and reported in news platform or social media, even WhatsApp.

Not only that. Due to our separate judicial jurisdictions, Sabah lawyers are not allowed to appear before the High Courts in other States. (Sabah lawyers may only appear before the Court of Appeal or Federal Court in Putrajaya for cases originating from Sabah or Labuan).

This means we must engage law firms in other states or KL. Imagine the extra time, energy and costs involving travel, accommodation and logistics for both defendants and witnesses. This adds up to gross injustices and unfairness, with dire consequences, towards any Sabah party to a litigation conducted outside Sabah.

The Sabah Law Society and law makers must initiate legal reforms to ensure justice and fairness for Sabahans and everyone in Sabah and compliance with MA63.

Datuk Yong Teck Lee
President, SAPP