(Updated)

Zaid Ibrahim, two others sue M'sian Bar and its president for defamation, breach of statutory duty

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim

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KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 1): Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and two others have sued Malaysian Bar president Karen Cheah and the organisation over her statement on Zaid and his legal team's conduct during former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's final appeal in the SRC International Sdn Bhd case.

Lawyers Zaid, Liew Teck Huat and Rueben Mathiavaranam, represented by Zaid's firm Messrs Zaid Ibrahim, Suflan TH Liew and Partners (ZIST), filed the lawsuit on Sept 30.

The defamation suit revolves around Cheah's statement Abuse of process brings disrepute to our justice system on Aug 19 amid Najib's final appeal at the apex court which was ongoing then.

It was reported previously that Zaid would initiate legal proceedings if Cheah did not apologise. He had also sent the Bar president a letter of demand on Aug 26.

Cheah and the Malaysian Bar are represented by Messrs Lee Hishammuddin Allen and Gledhill.

The plaintiffs claimed that the statement, which was "falsely and maliciously" published, insinuated that the lawyers had, among others, abused the court process, undermined the justice system through unscrupulous strategies and committed professional misconduct. The statement had also indicated that they would face disciplinary action.

Breach of statutory duty

The lawyers claimed that despite "condemning" them of professional misconduct, the defendants failed to lodge a complaint to the Disciplinary Board under Section 99(1) of the Legal Profession Act and had "taken it upon themselves" to determine that the lawyers were guilty of misconduct.

The plaintiffs also claimed that the defendants had breached their statutory duty by not referring them to the Disciplinary Board.

"Section 99(1) of the Act conferred exclusive power on the Disciplinary Board to deal with any matters concerning the conduct of the advocates and solicitors as it expressly provides that any such complaint shall in the first place be made and referred to it. This is a mandatory, not discretionary, provision," they said in their statement of claim.

The firm had taken over from Messrs Shafee & Co in the final SRC appeal at the Federal Court. On Aug 19, Najib discharged ZIST, and the statement by Cheah was issued after that.

Defamation

Among others, the plaintiffs claimed that the impugned statement bore the imputation that as senior members of the Bar, the plaintiffs deliberately acted unprofessionally by accepting the brief from Najib with an improper agenda to abuse court process and that the lawyers had accepted the brief with an ulterior motive to undermine the justice system by resorting to unscrupulous strategies.

They also claimed that the defendants specifically intended for the press release to be published by the media to get the most "extensive coverage possible" which included the entire country and the international community.

They also claimed that the Bar had released a statement on Sept 5, "officially endorsing and confirming" the earlier press release.

All this, they said, has gravely and substantially injured their character, credit and reputation.

They added that the defendants failed to reach out to them to verify the facts before issuing the said statement.

For the defamation suit, the plaintiffs are claiming, among others, general damages, aggravated damages and a permanent injunction restraining the defendants from making similar statements.

For the statutory breach of duty claim, the plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that a press release published by the media was not the right forum to deal with the alleged misconduct. They are also seeking damages.

Meanwhile, the matter came up for case management on Tuesday (Nov 1), and according to ZIST's Lim Qi Si, the court has allowed Cheah and the Bar to file their defence on or before Nov 7.

The plaintiffs are to file their reply on or before Nov 28, and the next case management has been set for Dec 13.

Read also:
Zaid Ibrahim's law firm threatens to sue Malaysian Bar president for defamation
Malaysian Bar: Abuse of process brings disrepute to our justice system

Surin Murugiah