PETALING JAYA: The legal community Wednesday praised the Government for withdrawing two contentious Bills from Parliament for fine-tuning.
In a phone interview, Christopher Leong said the Bar Council welcomed the withdrawal of the Evidence (Amendment) Bill and the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) (Amendments) Bill.
The Bar Council president said the proposed amendment allowing evidence taken from witnesses in the absence of the accused in a criminal trial was problematic.
Similar views were shared by Lawyers for Liberty co-founder Eric Paulsen, who said the withdrawal of the Evidence (Amendment) Bill was the right decision on the part of the de-facto Law Minister Nancy Shukri.
“If this Bill was allowed, it would mean witnesses can testify in secret where the accused or their counsel would be unable to see, hear or cross-examine those witnesses.
“Such secrecy is repugnant to the very basic foundation of our criminal justice system that demands a fair trial,” said Paulsen.
He added justice must be done openly and transparently and that the accused had to be offered every opportunity to challenge the evidence presented.
On the withdrawal of the CPC amendments, Leong said; “the proposed amendments to the CPC doing away with giving the discretion to the judiciary to impose concurrent sentences or to impose binding-over sentences, it must be borne in mind that justice must always take into account the particular circumstances of each case and the discretion of the judiciary in this regard must never be interfered with”.
Objections had been raised over the CPC amendments, as anyone found guilty of multiple offences would have to serve time for each crime consecutively, with concurrent sentences disallowed.
Additionally, the amendment would have taken away judges’ discretion to apply Section 294, which allowed judges to release youth offenders on probation of good conduct if the law provided a minimum penalty for their offence.
Leong, also called for the government to reconsider amendments it made to two other Acts, the Prevention of Crime Act and the Penal Code.
When asked about the withdrawal of the CPC amendments, Paulsen said it was a good first step for Shukri.
“Sentencing is not a black-or-white matter, as our judges would need to take into account various factors in individual cases. The discretionary powers of judges should remain,” said Paulsen.
On Wednesday, the Government withdrew six bills, with Shukri saying the withdrawal was needed to allow further fine-tuning after taking into account the views of various quarters.
The other four Amendment Bills withdrawn were the Emblem and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) (Amendment) Bill 2013, Common Gaming House (Amendment) Bill 2013, Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2013 and Pool Betting (Amendment) 2013.
Criminal defence lawyer Sreekant Pillai said it was good the Bills were being withdrawn as the impact and effects of the amendment to sentencing needed to be taken into account.
“If you do not allow concurrent sentences anymore, more accused persons would plead not guilty.
“When facing 20 years in prison for two charges, they would feel better with taking their chances in court, fighting the case and hoping for a win,” said Sreekant.
He said the amendment would also make plea-bargaining a waste due to the lengthy jail sentences accused would likely face.
As for the amendment to Section 294 of the CPC, which would have removed a judge’s discretionary powers to release youth offenders on probation of good conduct, Sreekant said it would take away the right of those with genuine mitigating factors, those who have genuinely changed their lives or wish to change their lives.