Coming soon in 2021: Malaysians will be able to plead guilty, pay fines online for traffic court cases

Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat speaks to the media at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya January 3, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat speaks to the media at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya January 3, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 31 — Malaysians may soon be able to use online methods to admit their guilt for traffic offences and traffic summons in court cases and to pay the fines digitally for such cases under the Malaysian judiciary’s plans for 2021, the chief justice said today.

Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat pointed out that more than one million court cases involving traffic offences were registered in Malaysia in 2019, and that a similarly high number of at least 800,000 such court cases were recorded this year.

She said a large bulk of the court cases in the Magistrate Courts are road traffic cases, where most of them end up with the accused person pleading guilty and fines being imposed, which means that such cases do not require judicial work as strenuous as other serious criminal cases heard in the Magistrate Courts.

“Regardless, given their sheer volume, traffic cases take up a considerable amount of judicial time,” she said.

The number of traffic cases registered in Magistrate Courts nationwide for 2019 is 1,396,188 cases, while a slightly lower number of 882,013 traffic cases in such courts were recorded between January to October 2020, possibly due to the lockdown measures amid the Covid-19 pandemic, she said.

With such staggering numbers of traffic cases, Tengku Maimun said this justifies the simplifying of the process to dispose of traffic cases by using digital methods.

“The Judiciary’s plan for 2021 is to digitalise the taking of guilty pleas in traffic cases and to allow the payment of fines electronically,” she said in her 20-page new year message.

Tengku Maimun said that there is currently an existing mechanism under the Criminal Procedure Code’s Section 137 where the accused person can plead guilty to a summons through a letter, with the magistrate allowed under this law to not require the accused person to personally attend the court proceedings and to convict him and impose a sentence of fine only.

But she said this mechanism of using a letter to plead guilty has hardly been used, with the Malaysian judiciary’s statistics not showing any cases recently where the accused has pleaded guilty through a letter.

“To reduce unnecessary foot traffic and to enhance access to justice and the efficiency of the Magistrate Courts, we propose, in addition to the guilty plea by letter method, to allow the taking of pleas and to impose the sentence of fines only, via a prescribed electronic system,” she said, adding that this online method of pleading guilty has been implemented in other places such as Singapore, Australia, England and Wales.

This planned digitalisation of traffic cases is on top of ongoing and upcoming use of online systems and digital innovations to improve the court process and experience in Malaysia.

Tengku Maimun noted that the Malaysian courts have already implemented the e-Jamin system which allows the online payment of bail, and is now looking into introducing a feature to allow an accused person to pay a court-imposed fine through e-Jamin.

“This will save time and trouble for the accused to make payment,” she said of the proposed e-Jamin feature for digital fine payments.

“We have fully expanded our e-Courts Finance, which is our online and cashless payment mechanism, throughout Peninsular Malaysia. For Sabah and Sarawak, the system will be completed in the later part of 2021,” she added.

Once the electronic system to plead guilty is up and running, the Malaysian judiciary’s next project will be to integrate it with artificial intelligence (AI) as a guideline for the meting out of sentences in court cases, she said.

Currently, the use of AI in sentencing for certain common offences are already in use in the lower courts in Sabah and Sarawak, with the judiciary planning to do the same in the courts in Peninsular Malaysia for certain cases and aiming to pair it with the online plea system, she said.

“This project is in the pipeline for the later part of 2021 subject to the law regulating electronic system for guilty pleas, in place,” she said.

Beyond that, Tengku Maimun said the judiciary is proposing amendments to the law to allow for lawyers to deliver notices of appeal and records of appeal through online methods to the courts, in line with its commitments to fully use technology, cut down on expenditure and to be “completely paperless” for the sake of the environment.

The use of technology would mean that lawyers no longer need to carry loads of documents to court, and would only need to carry a laptop or an i-Pad, she said.

She noted that the judiciary has also implemented the use of QR codes to authenticate court documents in order to ease over-the-counter transactions.

“The use of QR Codes will assist the clerical staff in verifying the authenticity of court orders by scanning the QR code imprinted on the order while generally mitigating the risk of scams and forgeries of court orders,” she said.

Another project that the judiciary will embark on in 2021 is the ePesuruhjaya Sumpah, which is a system to fully digitalise the process where one applies to be a Commissioner for Oaths.

“Applications will be submitted and processed online and examinations as well as selection

interviews will also be conducted online. The results of the examination will be announced within the same day.

“The system is expected to be fully operational by 25 January 2021 and the public and lawyers may also browse for the nearest Commissioner for Oaths on the Judiciary’s website,” she said as part of the list of digital innovations by the judiciary.

Also in her new year message today, the chief justice listed out the measures that will be strictly enforced from next year to save everyone’s time and ensure a more efficient process in the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court.

The full speech of the chief justice today for New Year’s Day can be read here on the Malaysian judiciary’s website in both Malay and English.

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