Lawyers for Liberty refers to the press conference by the de facto law minister, Takiyuddin Hassan, on 17 March 2021 where he attempted to clarify the “confusion” regarding the RM10,000 compound for breaches of the standard operating procedures outlined in the Emergency (Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021.
We must first point out that it is disingenuous of the minister to impute the outcry over the compound as some sort of public “confusion”. 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 would be imposed, leaving the matter entirely at the behest of enforcement authorities.
The guideline introduced by the law minister on 17 March 2021, 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 public ramifications.
Those who were issued summons and paid the compound in excess of the amount stated in the standard operating procedure would have already suffered an unfortunate financial setback without any recourse.
Furthermore, even with the guideline in place, those issued summons for misdemeanours such as failure to wear a face mask or failure to practise 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 the way for 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 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 place excessive burden on the public.
Whilst there is a need to ensure compliance to standard operating procedures, the penalties must be commensurate to the gravity of the offence, and failure to do so is a direct affront to the Federal Constitution. – LfL
Zaid Malek is coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty