Thursday, 25 July 2013

Titanic Shafee-Karpal Battle To Undo Anwar's Acquittal!

A Titanic courtroom battle is shaping up between two legal gladiators -- Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah for the government and Karpal Singh for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in the prosecution's bid to undo the opposition leader's Sodomy II acquittal delivered early last year.

The outcome is as salivating as the prospects of this unprecedented legal skirmish, with its political implications, and the hype and theatrics surrounding it.

Shafee is not just a courtroom lawyer with defences of unusual clients in the dock. He is also a celebrity with the defiance you'd normally associate with the colourful people he defended against criminal charges of murder, drug dealing and organised crime.

When Shafee sets about defending the accused, he inadvertently becomes the news, a cause celebre of sorts at ease as a pugilist debunking allegations not just in the courtroom but also in the realm of public opinion. But Karpal bores the same reputation, too.

Check out Shafee's combative posture at his impromptu press conference on Monday justifying his appointment as government prosecutor.

"There is no political motive. There is no conflict of interest. I have read the 25 volumes of appeals records, it is a nightmare. If it had gone today, I would have finished my appeal in two to three hours."

We are hoping it won't conclude that speedily, given the compelling soap opera, which is like being glued to an exciting film noir.

But it does demonstrate Shafee's competitive streak, the strong will to want to win a court case underlined by his snazzy rejoinders, both brash and super confident, and this from a lawyer who claims he is not a politician but who can duke it out as good, if not better, than most political talking heads.

As a defender of the righteously trampled, Shafee is no more controversial than Karpal, a litigant with a taste for the dramatics, in and out of the courtroom.

The only marked difference between the two is that Shafee is not a member of parliament or a political party leader like Karpal. But where political machinations go; both criminal lawyers are cut from the same cloth, their fondness for incendiary arguments well documented.

This will be the second time Shafee faces off Karpal in a courtroom, the first being in 1977-78 where as deputy public prosecutor, he cross-examined Karpal who was counsel for various accused in cases involving the Internal Security Act relating to firearms and drugs.

Immediately after Shafee's appointment as government lawyer, you'd think it was a sucker punch to the defence's gut, the way they reacted with indignant horror. The announcement itself was akin to drawing first blood for the tantalising court battle ahead. Karpal is to meet his match and so is Shafee, both firsts among equals.

No disrespect to the Sodomy I and II prosecution teams with their mixed results but their staid personalities were no match for Anwar and Karpal's stagecraft.

Shafee, on the other hand, will be snapping and hounding on Anwar's heels in the manner Karpal would in examining a hostile witness and addressing his case before public opinion.

Anwar's defence team is in any case filing a formal application to disqualify him on grounds that he is prejudicial to Anwar and that this represents a conflict of interest. Both claims appear overstated and superfluous but that's for the appeals judge to rule.

In any case, the role of the current prosecutor -- whether he or she is bred within the Attorney-General's Chambers, or an "outsider", as worried by former attorney-general Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman -- is to primarily win the appeal by proving that the accused was guilty as charged.

In Shafee's case, he must prove that the acquittal was made on what he deems as a "total misinterpretation of the facts".

There no difference between an "insider" and an "outsider" when the objective is the same -- to convince the judge to overrule the acquittal.

Calling Shafee's role a "conflict of interest" is also no stranger than Karpal's position, still representing Anwar even after Karpal had thrashed Anwar, first for sexual misconduct and later being unfit to lead the opposition.

If Shafee is guilty of anything, it is guilt by irony. The ability to dispassionately swap legal mindsets without missing a heartbeat but certainly not by the allegations presented by Anwar's legal team to eliminate him.

As for Karpal, Monday's non-appearance due to a back ailment was a little disappointing, knowing the kind of fireworks he and Shafee could have detonated.

Karpal, by all measures, is still the heaviest of heavyweight litigators in the country despite his advanced age and health issues but in duking it out with Shafee, it might be that this would be the real test of mettle for both lawyers and that the legal, not the political, drama will shine through.

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