A COURT TRIAL BEGINS

Posted on September 28, 2011

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Let me first say that I am neither a fan of Michael Jackson nor trained in law. As for music, as a keen listener my inclinations had taken me on a very different path from that of the music of MJ. Yet, on the few occasions I had watched and heard him on video, clearly the man was a consumate performer and entertainer and his skills and professionalism undoubtedly deserves his fans’ adulation and admiration.

Unfortunately or otherwise, my brush with the law and court trials all took place in-country and my learning curve was entirely fed by the fare which still goes on these days in our courts. So after a long day yesterday, I found myself lazing on my easy chair switching between the sports and news channels when suddenly well after midnight I came upon the opening statements of the prosecution in the trial of MJ’s personal physician live on international news channels.

Not intending to stay long with this news, I soon found myself completely hooked and only eventually went up to bed at around two. It was an (belated) education to follow the prosecution’s case. The level of competence of the chief prosecutor’s presentation was such that even as an uninitiated, untrained onlooker, I found myself able to follow even the technical parts of his presentation and able to see his points very clearly. Quite obviously, the defendant had a case to answer to. Thus, even before the defence presented their opening statements, I could see what their defence would have to be to overturn the prosecution’s case. I watched with incredulity (so little was the sum total of my in-country education in court craft) in the first instance, how the trial judge had been absolutely clear in his brief at the very beginning. Overnight (literally), I suddenly found an admiration, respect and confidence in the justice system which, hitherto, I had not had the opportunity to feel so. Yes of course like many others in Malaysia I had been enrapt by the fabulous court proceedings and scenes produced and directed by Hollywood! But besides Hollywood, my only experience of court trials have been in-country and, that too, only very occasionally.

It was a relevation therefore to see some other models of court craft and decorum last night. A life had been lost, not to mention the professional talent and continued prospective contribution to society by the departed. As we would say here, “Sayang sekali”. Whenever death occurs, especially if suddenly without seeming warning, reason or need (as in falling out of windows and bullet wounds on minors driving illegally or when on assignment as a journalist to cover humanitarian aid events), loved ones are left bewildered and shattered, looking for but not finding satisfactory answers. So inquests and royal commissions have been conducted and findings announced which more frequently than not leave gaps which understandably sow even more incredulity.

How will the physician’s trial in Los Angeles be conducted and what would be the outcome? Quite obviously it is too soon to tell. But I woke up this morning with one very strong thought which dominates my mind. Whatever the final verdict of this trial watched and followed by many throughout the world, unlike a justice system which is solely based on the decision of the trial judge at every turn of the proceedings, this one is a TRIAL BY JURY. Already, it seems to me, it goes a long way in terms of process to provide a fair and just hearing. There is of course no guarantee of perfect justice since no human effort or enterprise, no matter how well-intended and well-meaning, can be absolutely right.

It sets me thinking: When so much depends on the verdict of a court trial, can any one person, no matter how fair or learned, capture every phase, perspective, twist and turn of a court trial? In our country, why was trial by jury not instituted throughout the states but only Penang and Malacca? And why, oh why was trial by jury abolished wherever it was practised in 1995, including the provision of a trial judge sitting with two assessors to help him in capital cases? Instead of extending it to the entire country, trial by jury was pulled from even where it was practised. Why? Would it be too far-fetched to think that a justice system based on trial by jury would have come to certain conclusions which would be different from a trial by one person? Does not the process affect the outcome of any court trial?

Come to think of it, it seems that in our country, a lot of things, in fact the most important things seem more often than not decided by the 1Person or 1Organization system. We seem to have a propensity to rely on the One’s and Two’s or Three’s, the Favoured Ones, rather than in corporate transparent fashion. Yes we have the appearance of joint action and joint decision-making such as in parliament, etc., but it seems to me than more often than not in the end some very key decisions have been made by the powerful few. An arbitrary manner of decision-making seems to be preferred to a corporate decision-making process. Yet such decisions involve and affect the country’s resources and the shaping of major programmes. In this vein, arbitrary decisions are oftentimes also short-term decisions which do not solve the root causes of problems but in time further feed the root problems instead, only making matters worse.

I hope I am wrong on this score and I am earnestly praying that those better trained, educated and experienced will please wake me up from my nightmare and show me that the truth is not what it seems to me. THE WHOLE TRUTH and NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH. For the sake of bereaved, shocked, grieving and despairing families as well as poorer people who will be hardest hit by inflation.

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Posted in: Leadership