Looking into the "Court of Public Opinion"

Some Malaysians claim that Rakyat Hakim Negara (RHN) (Malay term for “People are Justices of the Country”) since 2013. RHN does not only allow the people to try those cases in a forum called “court of public opinion”, but also to rule on court cases in the name of freedom of public speech and based on their belief which is usually sided. 

Even so, the “court of public opinion” is existed only in both real and virtual worlds. Social media has caused large significant impacts to this “court”. Social media, which initially aims to connect someone with the whole country and the whole world, turns to be “court of public opinion” where a social media user can turn himself to be prosecutor, advocate, witness and judge at the same time.

For some, the “court of public opinion” represents the hallmark of the people’s freedom of public speech. They can talk whatever pleases them and their mind and on whatever case even though it is still inadmissible to a court of judicature due to continuing investigation by certain authorities.

But some more feel the same “court” as a disturbance to the real court. Its ability of change the ordinary people’s mindset and of affecting legal and judicial process does not only disturb the judicial duty of judges and lawyers, but disturb some ongoing cases in the at the same time. The ongoing case of Public Prosecutor (PP) v. Dato’ Farid Kamil Zahari is sufficient to be an example linking to such fact.

Unfortunately, some have used this “court” to make false claims outside the court and without going through the whole fact and the appropriate authority. A small number of social media users claimed that the Judge who ruled on PP v. Datin Ruzita Mohamad Ali was bribed to allow a lighter sentence towards the accused, i.e. RM 20,000 bond of good behaviour instead of not more than 20 years of imprisonment.

When I hear this claim, I am really brave to tell them to make a report to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). Alas, they are not really brave to do so because they know that the claim is just a sentiment of hate towards the Judiciary, is unproven and, therefore, is seditious.

In fact, when the case is considered high profile due to the involvement of a person of nobility, the Judge’s rule on such case is just a weak judgment handed by a subordinate court judge which is eligible for disapproval from the Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) (who appears for the victim), the Federal Attorney-General (who is himself PP), and a big number of Malaysians and Indonesians (as the victim is an Indonesian). 

The people, in awareness towards such unjust and weak judgment, called the Government to reconsider the case through a petition which was believed signed by more than 15,000 people. The PP, at the other side, who considered the judgment as inadequate to the victim’s suffering. Thanks to the PP’s wisdom and awareness towards public reactions, the PP filed an appeal to the High Court against the judgment.

Another false claim heard from this “court” was that the judgment was politically motivated. Sorry to those who put politics above all, this case has nothing to do with politics. The nature of this criminal case is totally different from the others, which led DPP to consider this as one of nine high profile court cases in Malaysia. 

These two false claims do not make a right. Although it is greatly wrong for the accused in the latter’s case to cause serious injuries towards the victim, and even though the sentence handed down by the Judge is weak and causes bad precedence in the future, it is also wrong for the people to say that the Judge was bribed or the Judge was playing politics when handing down the sentence. 

Therefore, the public, especially members of the “court” are advised not to use sentiments when giving opinions towards court cases. Although some court cases, especially civil cases, are directly related to politics, the public are told to read and research the chronology of the case, related sections of legal provisions and the whole proceedings of the respective court before reacting to any court case. 

In respect of the case of PP v. Datin Rozita Mohamad Ali, let the PP to appeal and defend harsher sentence for the accused in the next court and on the people’s behalf, and let us continue to the next judge to revise the sentence. In respect of the ongoing case of PP vs. Dato’ Farid Kamil Zahari, let the Judge complete the hearing and come up with a just decision. 

Our duty, as a layman, remains to defend social norms and values in our life as an individual and as a community. 

Photo courtesy of The Paradigm of Nigeria