“Shocked but justice served,” says senior counsel held in contempt of court

It is a roller coaster ride for Shankar (front row, centre) and his co-counsels Dato Bong Ah Loi (front, second right) and Wong King Wei (front row, second left) since the beginning of Dr Sim versus Chong case.  

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By Lian Cheng

KUCHING, Mar 18:  Senior Counsel Shankar Ram Asnani believes that justice is served following the Court of Appeal’s decision that the findings to substantiate his contempt of court order were flawed and without materials to support.

Sounded very much relieved, and admitting that it was “a shock” to be held in contempt of court for nothing, Shankar said the legal team will proceed with the defamation case which Local Government and Housing Minister Dato Sri Dr Sim Kui Hian filed against Kota Sentosa assemblyman Chong Chieng Jen.

“So we are pleased.  We want to proceed with the case as the counsels for the plaintiff (Dr Sim).  I think justice is served.  We have gone through a bit of a shock in this sort of situation where we were cited for contempt all of a sudden without basis and are glad that the Court of Appeal found such orders of the High Court to be flawed.

“The Court of Appeal held that the findings were flawed but no order for costs were made by the Court of Appeal because the learned JC (High Court Judicial Commissioner Alexander Siew) had moved on his own volition,” Shankar told the media in Kuching Court Complex today.

The Court of Appeal has today unanimously reversed the Kuching High Court’s decision (Jan 12) in dismissing the defamation action by Dato Sri Sim Kui Hian against Chong Chieng Jen with RM30,000 costs, apart from setting aside the contempt order made against Dr Sim’s Counsel Shankar Ram Asnani and the order referring him to the Inquiry Committee.

In its grounds of decision delivered today, the Court of Appeal held that there were no basis in law for High Court Judicial Commissioner Alexander Siew to dismiss Dr Sim’s case with RM30,000 costs when the trial was still ahead then in March 2021.

The Court of Appeal further held that there was no basis for Siew to find the explanation of Shankar “nonsensical and not believable”. 

It was also the Appellate Court’s decision that there were no materials to warrant a finding that Shankar and his client Dr. Sim were guilty of obstruction of justice or compromising the integrity of the trial of the action.

The three-judge bench were made up by Court of Appeal Judges Datuk Lau Bee Lan, Datuk Ravinthran N. Paramaguru and Dato Indera Mohd Sofian Tan Sri Abdul Razak.

“We are going to proceed as fast as we can because one of the last orders made by the Court of Appeal is that the case will be heard by another judge,” said Shankar.

Shankar represented himself but assisted by Bong (centre) and Wong (left).

On Jan 12, during the proceeding of the defamation case, Siew found Shankar in contempt of court for delay in filing the bundle of documents.  Siew dismissed the case and ordered Dr Sim to pay a cost of RM30,000, on the basis that the delay in filing the documents has caused an obstruction to justice and compromised the integrity of the trial.

Two days later on Jan 14, Shankar and his legal teams filed for an appeal to seek reversal on both orders.

As an unprecedented case, Shankar’s alleged contempt of court had caught the attention of the legal fraternities.  In view of the severity of the case and that Shankar is a member of Advocates Association of Sarawak (AAS), the association stepped in to submit an application to hold a watching brief on the hearing.  The application, was turned down by Siew on Feb 3.

When the cases landed with the Appellate Court, not only AAS but the Malaysia Bar Council also made the application to watch brief on the hearing as Shankar is also one of their members. On Feb 15, the Court of Appeal approved both applications.

The Court of Appeal heard the case on Feb 24 and 25.  After both sides had deliberated their arguments, the judges invited the Malaysia Bar representative and AAS to express their view on the matter related to Shankar’s alleged contempt of court.

Clement Wong was instructed by the Malaysia Bar Council to relate that a breach of the Court’s directions may not be sufficient to warrant a contempt.

“I am instructed by Bar to say — In the event there is indeed a Committal Order given by the Learned Judicial Commissioner, then the Malaysian Bar’s position is that contempt is to be used sparingly and the Malaysian Bar is of the view that if the committal order was made solely due to defiance of direction of court, that by itself may not be sufficient to warrant contempt. This is the instruction given by the Malaysian Bar,” said Wong during the court hearing on Feb 25.

The Court of Appeal did not come up with a decision on the same day but explained that time was needed for further deliberation.  Their judgment was only being handed down today.

Shankar represented himself in contempt of court case and was assisted by senior Counsel Bong Ah Loi and Wong King Wei.— DayakDaily