Morally Wrong, Legally Clean

Remember the quote – “it looks like me, it sounds like me but it is not me” from a character called VK Lingam? Well, there are not limits to what Malaysian politicians can do to top such stupid statements.

(Morally wrong is ok not matter how serious it is! says the self appointed clown Minister in Parliament)

Malaysiakini reported the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz as saying that what VK Lingam did was “morally wrong but he was legally clean”.

Malaysian Insider then reported:-

Nazri also suggested that Lingam breached no laws as he might “have just acted to fix the appointment of judges as if he was brokering the appointment of senior judges to impress people”.

“I am not denying that it was Lingam in the tape. But I am also saying that there are a lot of conmen in this world. Who knows he might have just acted when he was calling the so-called judges to impress,” said Nazri in his ministerial winding-up speech on the 2010 Budget debate.

So, it looks like Nazri, who is well known for past acts of putting his foot in the mouth, have done it again.

With a simple sweeping statement, Nazri have cleared VK Lingam of any wrongdoing and at the same suggested that VK Lingam (whilst still calling him a conman) may have just acted to impress people. With people like Nazri around to make such statements, then why waste time and money on Royal Commissions and reports to police and MACC (who by the way had cleared the 2 characters of any wrongdoing) on the Lingam’s case, right?

Let’s reflect back to the words “morally wrong but legally clean”.

I still recall when I was in law school and we had to deal with the issue of morality and legality. It was an interesting topic with many possible conclusions. Sometimes what it seems to be morally wrong may not be legally wrong and vice-versa.

One interesting case study that our professor threw at us to study and argue was this case:-

In a case that raised far-reaching political and moral questions, two former East German border guards were convicted today of having shot and killed a fleeing refugee in February 1989.

The verdict set a legal precedent, establishing that officials from what was once the Communist state of East Germany could be punished for actions that were not only legal under East German law, but which were compulsory for them to carry out.

That was an interesting case indeed, and one was on the other end of the straw, if using Nazri’s words, “morally wrong but legally clean”. In this case, the border guards were only legally permitted to shot the fleeing refugee but they were also compelled to shot under strict orders.

The defendant accused of firing the fatal shots, 27-year-old Ingo Heinrich, told the court “at that time I was following the laws and commands of the German Democratic Republic.”

But the judge, Theodor Seidel, said as he pronounced the sentences, “Not everything that is legal is right.”

Mr. Heinrich was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on a charge of manslaughter. He was ruled to have fired the shot that killed 20-year-old Chris Gueffroy as Mr. Gueffroy dashed across the “death strip” that separated East and West Berlin.

If Nazri have been the judge in the court that day, he would have probably allowed the charged border guards to be let off free. After all, does all they did was morally wrong but legally clean?

Of course, such nonsense was not shared by the real judge on the day. Law students may argue for both cases – that in one case, one should not allow any issue of the morality or personal notion of justice to interfere with the strict reading of the law (this is following Nazri’s arguments). But on the other hand, isn’t the law of the country was formed on the basis of morality (for example the law against incest), justice and fairness?

Gary Gentile in the Advocates stated this:-

Law is a reflection of society’s code of morality.

The repercussions from the VK Lingam’s case has a far reaching impact. It is for one implies that appointment of judges can be manipulated by persons on the outside. Malaysian Insider further reports:-

Bukit Gelugor DAP MP Karpal Singh said what had transpired in the recording was tantamount to sedition as it had brought the country’s judiciary into disrepute and Lingam, he suggested, could be charged under the Sedition Act.

Even if the ‘conman’ as implied by Nazri, was just acting, it does bring a wrong impression on the judiciary as whole. Morally, it is wrong but so does legally.

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