RM 10,000 compound for Covid cases remains excessive, disproportionate despite ‘guidelines’
19 March 2021
We refer to the press conference by the de facto Law Minister, Datuk Seri Takiyuddin bin Haji Hassan, on 17 March 2021 where he attempted to clarify the “confusion” regarding the RM10,000 compound for breaches of the Standard of Procedures (“SOPs”) outlined in the Emergency (Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 (Act 342) (“the Ordinance”).
We must first point out that it is disingenuous for the Minister to impute that the outcry regarding the compound as some sort of “confusion” by the public; the outcry was entirely justified as the Ordinance when it was first gazetted on 25 February 2021 made no distinction between the type of offences and the appropriate compounds that will be imposed, leaving the matter entirely at the behest of the enforcement authorities.
The guideline introduced by the Law Minister on 17 March 2021 (“the guideline”), almost three weeks after the Ordinance was gazetted and one week after it came in force, is irrefutable evidence that the Ordinance was enacted without proper consideration of the ramifications it might have to the public at large. Those who were issued summons and paid the compound in excess of the amount stated in the SOP would have already suffered unfortunate financial setback without any recourse.
Furthermore, even with the guideline in place, those who were issued summons for misdemeanours such as failure to wear a face mask or practicing physical distancing are still at the mercy of enforcement authorities and could still face a maximum compound of RM1,500, an exorbitant amount that is higher than the nation’s current minimum wage. The supposed appeal process is also of no help as it only creates unnecessary bureaucracy that may pave way to administrative abuse. This is also made worse by the ill-defined categories of offences listed under the guideline which will lead to confusion and inconsistency in its implementation.
The rule that criminal penalties should be proportionate to the gravity of the offence is integral to any justice system, a principal adumbrated as far as back as the Code of Hammurabi, enshrined in our Federal Constitution by way of Article 8, and now deeply entrenched in our legal system through decided cases by the Federal Court. It is disheartening that the Law Minister, despite his own legal background and access to the legal minds within the Attorney General’s Chambers, chooses to ignore this cardinal rule of proportionality of penal provisions.
We thus urge the government to cease implementing piecemeal and ineffective laws that lack any clear purpose and places excessive burden to the public. Whilst there is a need to ensure compliance of SOPs, the penalties must be commensurate to the gravity of the offence and failure to do so is a direct affront to the Federal Constitution.
Lawyers for Liberty