Panacea to reduce crime? — Lim Sue Goan

JULY 8 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak made a legal reform pledge on the eve of the Malaysia Day in 2011, which was indeed a sign of democratic progress. However, the legal reforms have been questioned. Would the government backtrack?

Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi refuses to support the abolition of the 1969 Sedition Act. At the same time, Home Ministry and the police blame the abolition of the Emergency Ordinance (EO) for causing the deterioration of public security and thus, the government is developing a special preventive law similar to the EO.

It was a right move for Najib to announce the abolition and amendments for some draconian laws, as these undemocratic laws had violated human rights and fundamental freedom. They were also accused to have been used against dissidents.

For example, student activist Adam Adli Abdul Halim; Tamrin Ghafar, son of late former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Ghafar Baba; Anything But Umno (ABU) leader Haris Ibrahim and three others were charged with sedition in May. Also, six Socialist Party leaders were detained under the EO.

In fact, as early as in 2005, the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) Report had proposed the abolition of the EO as the Act was “outdated and might become a tool to infringe fundamental freedom”. The EO allowed for 60 days’ detention without warrant or trial, depriving detainee’s right to seek legal defence. Therefore, the announcement to abolish the Sedition Act and the EC was in line with public opinion. The authorities should not resurrect the laws, regardless of whatever excuses.

The authorities believe that the over 2,600 detainees released after the abolition of the EO have continued committing offences and thus, the police need a new law to deal with them. However, who can guarantee that crime cases can be reduced after a new law is made? Is detention without trial really the panacea to reduce crime?

If the increase in crime causes people to fear and thus support a new law allowing detention without trial, it would waste all the efforts so far in legal reform. In fact, many people have tended to this idea and fortunately, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri holds a different view.

While exaggerating the effectiveness of preventive laws, we should not neglect the police’s law enforcement efficiency and the judiciary’s professional capacity in imposing sanction against criminals. If the authorities can arrest and take legal action against those who have violated laws quickly, I believe that it can achieve a certain level of deterrent effect. The police can actually learn from Hong Kong, Singapore and other countries or regions with good law and order.

In addition, perseverance is also the key to combatting crime. For example, public security is closely related to the spread of drugs. During the administration of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad 30 years ago, the government launched drug-abuse prevention campaigns and today, the Federal Police (Bukit Aman) Narcotics Criminal Investigation Department also launched an anti-narcotic crime movement nationwide. If all efforts last only for a brief period of time, we can actually predict the outcome.

On September 26, 2012, the prime minister made a promise at the International Malaysia Law Conference that the government would continue promoting legal reforms and said that there would be no turning back.

Hopefully, the commitment will not be shelved due to various problems. Maintaining social harmony and reducing crime cannot rely on draconian laws as draconian laws are the source of arrogance and wilfulness, instead of the panacea to enhance efficiency. —

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online. 

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