PETALING JAYA: The findings of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the allegations in former attorney general Tan Sri Tommy Thomas’ book may be a repetition of the work of the earlier task force, say lawyers.
One of them also warned that there had been cases of RCI findings being successfully challenged in court.
Haniff Khatri Abdulla questioned what the government wanted to achieve with an RCI as the task force that was set up in 2021 to investigate the same matter had already made its proposals.
He was responding to the statement by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reforms) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said on Wednesday that an RCI would be set up to further scrutinise Thomas’ memoir My Story: Justice in the Wilderness published in January 2021.
“When they (the previous government) formed the task force to investigate the allegations in Thomas’ memoir, that itself was a waste of time and money as more than a hundred police reports were already lodged against the book.
“The authorities then could have filed the investigation papers and then if there was a possibility of a committed crime, the papers could have been sent to the Attorney General and Thomas tried in a court of law in due process.
“Now, what other recommendations can this RCI come up with that will differ from what the task force has proposed in detail?” Haniff said, pointing out that the task force was made up of judges.
He opined that the task force had no legal basis and findings of the RCI too would not be legally binding.
“If Azalina is serious in reforming the laws, then take the necessary action by allowing the authorities to investigate and charge Thomas if need be,” he said.
On the other hand, another lawyer, Andrew Khoo, said an RCI was probably mooted to show that the government was holding an independent and credible inquiry into Thomas’ allegations.
“Given that we are a very politically divided country, one of the ways in which an independent and, hopefully, credible inquiry could be conducted into this matter would be to constitute an RCI.
“Anything else, such as a task force or departmental investigation, would be easily criticised as being too partisan, and would lack credibility.
“However, just because there is an RCI does not mean that it would be impartial. It would depend very much on the composition.”
Khoo added that even when the RCI had concluded its findings, they could still be challenged as “these were not sacred”.
“The findings of the RCI in 2011 on Teoh Beng Hock’s death at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission office were successfully challenged in court,” he said.
(On July 21, 2011, the RCI on Teoh’s death released a report claiming that he had committed suicide after relentless questioning by MACC investigators. In September the same year, Teoh’s family applied to the Shah Alam court to revise the coroner’s open verdict and succeeded.)
Thomas was the attorney general under the Pakatan Harapan government in 2018 but resigned after the administration collapsed in February 2020.
On Oct 8, 2021, the Cabinet set up the task force to undertake a preliminary study of disclosures in the controversial book. Its report was issued on Sept 30 last year and tabled before the Cabinet.
The task force, chaired by Datuk Seri Fong Joo Chung – Sarawak legal adviser and former state attorney general – identified 19 important issues in the book that required the government’s attention.
Thomas declined to comment when contacted yesterday.