ONE'S innocence can be another's guilt. One's perceived guilt can be yet another's false and often lasting pleasure. Where does this puerile notion end? More importantly, how should the line be fairly drawn?
One answer, the law and none other.
At the risk of generalising, curiosity has been the nature of sentient beings where an itching urge to form an opinion on incidents or issues we chance upon in life is difficult to avoid. While is not an entirely unforgivable act that we allow ourselves to be immersed with such tendency, what we however assume as facts when we speak are unfortunately often not entirely assured of proven veracity given our premature and oftentimes biased stand bereft of sufficient effort in securing fairness in both its factual and legal analysis.
An honest pursuit of credible facts and its state of actual truth is therefore easily hampered by our own self-occasioned immaturity, owing in no small measure.
Again, the only cure to this ailing notion is but the law.
Law is a platform through which a purported indiscretion can be pronounced. A judge sitting in judgment of the matter is the sole authority to do the pronouncing.
Neither you nor I. Not anyone else.
In the exercise of criminal conviction, law steps in as an arbiter of justice through presentation of evidence that leads to a judge's determination on one's state of guilt. Until such determination is made, no harm is to be inflicted upon an accused person by our assumption of his guilt.
Recent investigation of the son of our Defence Minister on the allegation of a drug-related offence would aptly illustrate how one should be passive if not completely silent in taking upon himself to be a judge of his purported misdeed, if at all.
At all times, until otherwise is proven and so lawfully held, a person in the thick of a charge in court remains a free man according to the law.
The rule of law accords a fair opportunity of being heard. Through the agency of prosecutorial authority mandated to the state, a victim may have his grievances aired. Similarly, a legal representation by a lawyer in defence of an accused person is available so he may be comforted in the knowledge that he shall have his fair share of day in court.
The judge on the other hand functions as an august figure before whom a case is argued and through whom a subsequent finding of law flowing from all evidence gathered and considered can be reached.
A good many moral critics would condemn a wilful lawyer who in the former's opinion stands in cahoots with perpetuating injustice by choosing to defend his client despite his knowledge of the latter's commission of the alleged crime.
In this regard, allow yourself to be quickly disabused of such notorious delusion.
A lawyer does not lose his sleep over making up stories that will potentially shroud over the course of justice through those concocted doubts that he creates.
Rather, as an officer of the court, a lawyer provides maximum assistance by ensuring all evidence put forth by the prosecution stands the test of credibility beyond an iota of reasonable doubt.
Its lack or worse, absence thereof, it is the duty of the court to give the benefit of such doubt to the accused person.
Ultimately it matters not what we think, lawyers included, of an individual's state of guilt. What does however is the due process that he is rightfully entitled to and that such avenue be accommodated with utmost dignity and transparency.
To assume on instinct that one is indeed in the wrong without regard to the rule of law would be tantamount to assuming the judicial role of a judge.
Hold our peace and let the law run its course. Indeed, it is most opportune that such plea be a constant reminder for all of us in the spirit of care and hope not just for the efficacy, but also the expediency of our legal system with which we must at all times engage with profound respect and affection.
An unjust pursuit of justice whenever it begins only ends with a birth of a rotten fruit of injustice wherever the seed is sown or afterwards harvested.
A trial by public opinion based on the law of pure curiosity and speculation as opposed to one by the court of law where evidence is weighed and determined solely by the merit of a particular case only brings about acutely serious ramifications we very much hate to bear – an unsafe conviction.
As much an insatiable "curiouser" that we are as was Alice in Alice in Wonderland, who craves for truth, we must however "let his deservings and our love withal be valued 'gainst our own devilish concocted sense of justice" as Antonio in Merchant of Venice would have pitifully beseeched in the face of tumultuous legal battle.
Let's not be a criminal of our own moral crime.
* Alan Razak is an Advocate and Solicitor of the High Court of Malaya.
** The views expressed here are strictly of the author's and do not necessarily reflect Astro AWANI's.