Malaysian high court decision in wrongful arrest of lawyers upheld

PUTRAJAYA - There is no reason for the Court of Appeal to interfere with the High Court's decision in the wrongful arrest of five lawyers at the Brickfields police station in 2009 as they tried to provide legal aid to their clients.

Upholding the RM375,000 (S$139,000) award to the lawyers, Court of Appeal panel chairman Justice Zaharah Ibrahim, together with Justices Varghese George Varughese and Prasad Sandosham Abraham, unanimously dismissed the Government's appeal with RM30,000 in costs.

The lawyers - Ravinder Singh Dhalliwal, Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, Murnie Hidayah Anuar, Puspawati Rosman and Syuhaini Safwan - were arrested on May 7, 2009, at the police station when they tried to gain access to 14 people detained earlier in connection with a candlelight vigil.

The Government had attempted to appeal against both the High Court's judgment and the quantum of the award.

Senior federal counsel Zureen Elina Mohd Dom argued that there was not enough justification for the aggravated damages just because the detained lawyers were told to wear remand jumpsuits and not allowed to wear their underwear.

"That is standard protocol for those arrested. There is no question of humiliation," she said.

However, Justice Varghese pointed out that they should not have been arrested in the first place as the police had information that the ­lawyers, attached with the Bar Council's Legal Aid Centre, were not part of the group protesting outside the detention centre.

On May 23 last year, the Kuala Lumpur High Court awarded RM15,000 in general damages and RM60,000 in aggravated and exemplary damages to each lawyer.

The court also granted the group RM100,000 in costs.

In the landmark decision, High Court judge Justice John Louis O'Hara had ruled that the detention amounted to false imprisonment and that the lawyers' constitu­tional rights were denied when, after their arrests, they were not allowed access to legal representation.

The five had filed a suit in May 2012, naming the Inspector-General of Police, six police personnel and the Government as defendants.

Speaking to reporters, Fadiah Nadwa said she hoped the decision would remind the authorities not to interfere with lawyers performing their duties.

"The constitutional right to counsel is rendered meaningless if the police are allowed to intimidate lawyers or to stop them from meeting their clients," she said.

Zureen Elina said she was awaiting instruction on whether to appeal to the Federal Court.