KUALA LUMPUR (Aug 12): Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown's application to ask the apex court whether a criminal defamation charge against her is constitutional is "premature".
High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan said on Friday (Aug 12) that the transfer of Rewcastle-Brown's case from the Kuala Terengganu Magistrate's Court to the Kuala Lumpur High Court was "still in transit", and that the matter should be decided upon first.
"The court has not decided whether to allow the case against the applicant to be transferred and heard in the Kuala Lumpur High Court. In layman's terms, the application is still 'in transit'.
"I am therefore directing that the application to transfer be heard and disposed of first," he said, adding that Rewcastle-Brown is free to make the same application if her case is transferred to the High Court.
The questions posed in her application are whether Sections 499 and 500 of the Penal Code are constitutional and could be enforced in criminal proceedings, and if both Sections cannot be brought into accord with the Constitution under Article 162 (1), then is the court empowered to repeal the said provisions.
The above-mentioned Sections revolve around the issue of defamation.
In September last year, Rewcastle-Brown was charged with criminal defamation in a Magistrate's Court in Kuala Terengganu over the publication of the book titled The Sarawak Report: The Inside Story of the 1MDB Exposé.
Rewcastle-Brown was charged in absentia under Section 500 of the Penal Code, which states that whoever defames another can be jailed up to two years, or fined, or both. An arrest warrant was also issued against her.
Sultanah Nur Zahirah, the wife of the Sultan of Terengganu, claims that the book allegedly contains contents that are defamatory to her.
Rewcastle-Brown made the application to transfer her matter to the Kuala Lumpur High Court as she claimed that a "fair and impartial" trial cannot be held in the Kuala Terengganu Magistrate's Court.
In the same application, she is also seeking to quash the charge against her on the basis that the charge is mala fide (in bad faith), malicious in nature, and an abuse of the court process.
In her affidavit of support, she stated that the case is a high-profile matter involving the Palace of Terengganu.
"There is every reason for any reasonable person, including myself, to believe that potential pressure and/or unwarranted influence will be exerted by various quarters in Terengganu on the magistrate in Kuala Terengganu to 'ensure' a conviction against me," she claimed.
The prosecution is opposing the transfer application, and the matter is set to be heard on Dec 12.
Rewcastle-Brown was represented by Guok Ngek Seong, while the prosecution was represented by deputy public prosecutors Noor Haslinda Che Seman and Nadia Zulkefli, while Datuk Rajpal Singh held a watching brief for the Sultanah.
The same book is at the centre of a separate ongoing RM300 million civil defamation suit.
Besides Rewcastle-Brown, the other defendants are publisher Gerakbudaya Enterprise and printer Vinlin Press Sdn Bhd. Among others, the Sultanah is seeking general damages of RM100 million from each defendant.