The Malaysian Insider – NUJ wants open courts for public interest cases

By Yow Hong Chieh
March 21, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR, March 21 — Public interest cases should be heard in open court to allow journalists to accurately report on their proceedings, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said today.

NUJ general secretary V. Anbalagan said the public would be better served if reporters would obtain information first-hand from open court rather than rely on secondary information following closed door hearings.

He noted that information from lawyers and federal counsel could result in “out-of-context” reports and urged the Chief Judge of Malaya to instruct his subordinates to ensure judicial reviews of interest to the public are heard in open court.

“Journalists would better understand the issue if they had the opportunity to hear the matter ‘live’ then seek clarification from opposing parties after proceedings were over,” he said in a statement.

Anbalagan’s remarks were in response to yesterday’s hearing on the challenge by 10 Pahang residents against the Atomic Energy Licensing Board’s (AELB) decision to grant Lynas Corp approval for a temporary operating licence (TOL) for its rare earth plant in Kuantan.

“What was to be a ex-parte hearing turned out to be an inter-parte proceeding as Lynas was also allowed to make submissions,” he said, in reference to the hearing.

“About 15 reporters had to wait for lawyers and federal counsel… to find what transpired for more than hour in High Court judge Rohana Yusof’s chambers.”

Closed door sessions also deny people in courtroom public galleries from hearing arguments from opposing party and was opposed to the concept of a transparent judiciary which was accountable to the people, he added.

The Pahang residents filed a suit against AELB and two others on February 17 alleging that the radiation watchdog had approved the TOL for Lynas Corp’s RM2.5 billion refinery in return for a slice of the Australian miner’s revenue in Malaysia.

All 10 residents live within three to 18km of the controversial plant in Gebeng near the east coast city of Kuantan, which has stoked fears of radiation pollution.

The suit seeks a court order cancelling AELB’s approval of the TOL on January 30.

Also named in the suit were the Department of Environment’s director-general of environmental quality and Lynas’s local subsidiary, Lynas Malaysia Sdn Bhd.

The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) had earlier raised a preliminary objection on the grounds that the residents should first exhaust other avenues of recourse, including appealing to the science, innovation and technology minister.

The ministry, led by Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili, overseas AELB’s operations.

Judge Rohana fixed the next hearing for open court at 10.00am on April 4.

Earlier this month, Lynas said it will fire up its refinery by the second quarter of 2012. The plant is expected to generate RM8 billion in revenue annually.

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