Federal Court defers judgement on case of security guard against US embassy

After hearing the oral submissions by all parties yesterday morning, the Federal Court has reserved its decision on this much anticipated court battle where a Malaysian security guard, Subramaniam A/L Letchimanan, is fighting his unlawful dismissal case against the Government of the United States of America.

Previously, the US Government had obtained leave from Federal Court on 30 September 2021 after losing the case in the Court of Appeal on 3 February 2021.

The hearing yesterday morning was held virtually before the Federal Court Judges Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Azahar bin Mohamed, Dato’ Zabariah binti Mohd. Yusof and Dato’ Sri Hasnah binti Dato’ Mohammed Hashim.

Subramaniam was represented by pro bono activist lawyers Ragunath Kesavan, Tai Yong Fung and Joshua Tan whilst the US Government was represented by Lim Heng Seng, Amardeep Singh Toor and Chong Yue Han. Liew Horng Bin represented the Minister of Human Resources.

Ragunath Kesavan argued that the Court of Appeal had rightly held, inter alia, that the Industrial Court is the proper forum to decide on Subramaniam’s dismissal and the applicability of the restrictive doctrine of sovereign immunity can only be determined after fact-finding process in the Industrial Court.

The Human Resource Lawyer, Liew Horng Bin, agreed and contended that parties cannot seek an order to prohibit the Industrial Court from hearing the Minister’s reference before it has the opportunity to hear the matter and make a determination on the jurisdictional question. If a party is aggrieved by such decision, the proper recourse would then be to apply for a judicial review against such decision.

However, the US Government argued that the issue of disciplinary conduct of an Embassy staff is an internal matter and is the prerogative of a sovereign state. Therefore, they are immune and the Industrial Court has no jurisdiction to hear the matter.

Background

Subramaniam, a security guard who worked for 20 years in the US Embassy, was sacked on 4 April 2008 without any explanation, show-cause letter and Domestic Inquiry. This is a blatant case of dismissal without due process.

Subramaniam filed a case in accordance with the Malaysia law and made a representation for unlawful dismissal under Section 20 of the Industrial Relations Act 1967. Nevertheless, the case was delayed for 11 years.

After persistent effort by Subramaniam and PSM in seeking justice, YB Kulasekaran – the Human Resource Minister, had finally on 12 July 2018 referred the matter to the Industrial Court pursuant to Section 20(3) of the Industrial Relations Act 1967. The case was then heard before Yang Arif Tuan Gulam Muhiaddeen at the KL Industrial Court on 24 May 2019.

The US Government then made all efforts to defend the dismissal by hiding behind diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention 1966 as well as Article 31 of the Diplomatic Privileges (Vienna Convention) Act 1966 on the basis that the US Embassy enjoys legal immunity from criminal and civil suits when conducting official duty.

The US Government filed an application for judicial review in the KL High Court to seek an order to quash the Minister’s reference.

On 8 January 2020, the High Court ruled that the US Government has immunity and quashed the Minister’s reference with cost.

However, this decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal on 3 February 2021 where it held that the question of immunity can only be decided by the Industrial Court after considering the nature of employment of an employee.

It has been 13 years since Subramaniam – an ordinary security guard took the most powerful country in the world to court. Yesterday, the court heard all parties’ oral arguments for 3 hours but had reserved its decision on this matter. We hope that the Federal Court will do justice to the victim who is still waiting for his day in court.

S.Arutchelvan
Deputy Chairperson
Parti Sosialis Malaysia

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