Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Anwar Ibrahim has put the legal and
political establishment itself on trial.
Through this single, public act of principled defiance
he has demonstrated the shocking extent
to which our justice system has been reduced
to being a tool of those who are in power now".
On 22nd August 2011, Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim made an unsworn statement from the dock during his second sodomy trial in just over a decade. He chose to do so knowing that less weight would be given to his testimony as compared to sworn testimony from the witness box. This decision not to testify from the witness box is at once a searing protest against an unjust legal and political system, an eloquent indictment of that system and a powerful call for reform and change. By refusing to testify and daring them to do their worst, Anwar Ibrahim has put the legal and political establishment itself on trial. Through this single, public act of principled defiance he has demonstrated the shocking extent to which our justice system has been reduced to being a tool of those who are in power now. His act echoes that of Nelson Mandela, who in a bygone era also chose to give an unsworn statement from the dock during his political trial. Mandela used his now famous statement in the Rivonia sham trial to expose the evils of the apartheid regime to the scrutiny of the world.The stirring conclusion to Mandela’s speech is quoted by Anwar Ibrahim in his own statement from the dock. Like Anwar after him, Mandela realised that the only possible verdict was ‘guilty’ and preferred to make a full and coherent statement of his struggle rather than let his argument emerge in ‘bits and pieces’ during cross-examination.
The unsworn statement as it is today is the fruit of several hundred years of development of the common law. In England accused persons were not allowed counsel in felonies until 1836 and the practice thus grew up of allowing the accused person to make an unsworn statement from the dock. When the Criminal Evidence Act 1898 finally allowed sworn evidence to be accepted by the court, the right to make an unsworn statement from the dock was expressly preserved so as not to compel an accused person to go into the witness box. This hallowed and time-marked right is invaluable to the victim of a political trial, fighting against the entire might of the State. What Nelson Mandela did in 1963, Anwar Ibrahim did yesterday. Used in a righteous cause, the unsworn statement from the dock is a powerful tool against an unjust legal and political establishment. Anwar Ibrahim has rightly said that the outcome of his sodomy trial is a foregone conclusion. Now he has taken this judicial persecution and turned it into a weapon for the betterment of the nation.