One year in, law minister concedes legal reforms still only in the works

Liew said the government will prioritise the National Security Council (Amendment) Bill in the next parliamentary session. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Liew said the government will prioritise the National Security Council (Amendment) Bill in the next parliamentary session. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

PUTRAJAYA, May 10 — Nearly a year in office, Datuk Liew Vui Keong acknowledges that Pakatan Harapan’s pledged legislative reforms will take time to realise but pointed out the complexity of the task.

The minister in Prime Minister’s Department in charge of legal affairs noted that some traced back to British colonial days and, in all, there were over a hundred individual pieces of legislation that would be affected by the pledge in some way.

Despite the size of his undertaking, Liew said they were making progress.

“To date, we have identified 126 Acts that need to be amended or repealed so the process will take time as many of these laws belong to their respective ministries so we need to get the policies from the ministers, whether they want to repeal or amend specific Acts

“This is a starting point for us when we took over the government in May and when I was appointed in July,’’ he said in a special press interview commemorating PH’s first anniversary at his office here on Tuesday

Liew added that it will take from one to five years for each ministry to either repeal or amend laws under their purview.

Doing away with irrelevant and oppressive laws

Liew said among the priorities of the PH administration was to repeal or amend oppressive laws that were either enacted during the colonial era or under the Barisan Nasional government.

These include the Sedition Act, the Anti-Fake News Act, The National Security Council Act, Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, Prevention of Crime Act (Amendment) and abolishing the death penalty.

“It became our first agenda to abolish laws that are not relevant in accordance with the aspirations of the PH manifesto,’’ he said.

Liew said they had attempted to repeal the Anti-Fake News Act through Parliament in July last year but noted that this was defeated by the Opposition-dominated Senate later.

Liew also said the government will prioritise the National Security Council (Amendment) Bill in the next parliamentary session since this already had its first reading on April 9.

Another major milestone in legislative reform was the Cabinet’s decision to abolish the mandatory death penalty for 11 offences under two laws: nine under the Penal Code and two under the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971.

“We have taken the steps to abolish mandatory death sentences from all laws whereby we give the courts the authority to decide whether to sentence out executions or life imprisonment to those who are guilty,’’ he said.

However, Liew explained the proposal to abolish the death penalty is still work in progress as they must consider the views of all stakeholders, given the complexity and sensitivity of the issue.

Reviewing the Malaysia Agreement of 1963

Liew, who is federal lawmaker for Batu Sapi, said the PH administration is working hard to honour the Malaysia Agreement of 1963 (MA63) that is the basis for the formation of the country with three equal partners, namely the Federation of Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak.

“We have successfully formed a Cabinet Committee to oversee the execution of the Malaysia Agreement of 1963 and this coincide with Tun Dr Mahathir’s statement that Sabah and Sarawak is an equal partner,’’ he said, referring to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

On April 4, Liew tabled The Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019 in Parliament that sought to undo a previous change to the Federal Constitution that put Sabah and Sarawak on par with an individual peninsular state.

However, it fell short of the two-thirds support required to alter the Federal Constitution.

Despite the failure, Liew said he is not giving up.

“I think the most important thing is that we returned to this article 1(2) of the Constitution. The significant implication is the recognition that Malaysia is made up of three entities.

“This recognition of equal entities is quite significant because at this moment the present Constitution talks about the Federation of Malaysia where Sabah and Sarawak is just part of the 13 states,’’ he said.

New anti-stalking law

Among new laws the government is considering is one against stalking, the minister said.

The proposed law would punish those who stalk, peep or pry upon another person, he explained.

Currently, authorities use laws related to criminal intimidation or assault for which they must prove an offender either made physical contact or threatened their victim, making convictions challenging.

“Before it will become a problem, we need to ensure that legal action can be taken against the stalker and this is one of the law that we are looking at but of course there are many other laws that we are looking at as well,’’ he said.