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Law enforcement agencies must demonstrate highest professional standards

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The Malaysian Bar is concerned about recent reports of travel bans being imposed on targets of police investigations and of leaks to the media of videos, photographs and other details of ongoing police investigations.

The Malaysian Bar has always advocated the observance of the rule of law, and of proper due process of law. Regardless of public sentiment against certain high-profile members of the previous government, all individuals are entitled to the protection of their constitutional rights. The fact that the previous government may have had a less-than-sterling — even tarnished — record of respecting the rights of individuals should in no way justify a “tit-for-tat” approach of denying these high-profile members the right to have their own constitutional rights upheld.

These rights are granted to everyone, regardless of alleged or perceived wrongdoings, or social status. Law enforcement agencies, in the conduct of their investigations, must ensure that the publicly stated paradigm of the new government, namely respect for the rule of law, be observed strictly and in every sense of the word. There must be no shortcuts or compromises.

In this regard, therefore, the issuing of administrative orders by law enforcement agencies that restrict the freedom of movement of individuals is a breach of proper due process of law. Only the courts should make such orders, and only on the basis of sufficient prima facie evidence that such restrictions are appropriate, necessary and justifiable. Arbitrary orders issued by law enforcement agencies themselves, without proper judicial oversight, are a breach of the constitutional rights of any individuals concerned, and an affront to the rule of law.

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Law enforcement agencies must obtain the consent of the courts to prevent individuals from leaving the country. The proper due process mechanism is contained in the Criminal Procedure Code, which provides for, among other things, remand, bail and conditions that can be attached to it. These procedures must be followed.

Likewise, it is wholly unacceptable for members of law enforcement agencies to leak videos and photographs taken of items detained as part of ongoing investigations, or to share information about those ongoing investigations, without proper authorisation. Such leaks jeopardise ongoing investigations, and may well undermine attempts to bring alleged perpetrators of criminal offences to justice.

This would not be in the public interest. “Trial by media” cannot be allowed to take place. Indiscipline within law enforcement agencies is not to be condoned, and such agencies must be able — and be seen to be able — to enforce good order among their own rank and file.

The rakyat will no longer tolerate biased, prejudiced and unprofessional law enforcement agencies, and they expect members of all law enforcement agencies to demonstrate unquestionable, and the highest possible, standards. Neither should there be special treatment for any person — including “VVIPs” or “VIPs” — whether past or present. The rakyat deserve no less.

George Varughese is president of the Malaysian Bar.

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