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Are we all equal under the law?

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Dominic Damian reflects on the moral issues surrounding the enactment and enforcement of laws.

A serious question about our politics and laws emerges when one of the best among us leaves the scene. Rafizi Ramli’s retirement from politics and judges’ acceptance of commercial positions provides a stark contrast.

Some eminent judges have no qualms about relinquishing their judicial robes and putting on commercial garments after retirement. This seems to be a natural progression.

Questions arise:

  • Are the judges’ qualifications and quality of a calibre that makes them far more valuable to commercial enterprises?
  • Is this a progression that genuinely contributes? Or is this for financial gain?

What I put forward are thoughts shared by a Malay professor whose ideals are aligned to my feelings. We never think about laws until they affect us or someone we know. Even the best-intended laws may wound humanity. The coterie of laws is conceived with interpretative limitations to suit the comfort and conveniences of the majority.

The law is constricted, and sometimes a lack of magnanimity is evident.

The disadvantaged are disproportionately represented in the justice system. The prison system is a testament to this disparity. Criminality arising from dilapidated or disadvantaged environments is often not taken into account. A lack of financial means translates to a tooth-pick defence, if at all they can find a lawyer. And so, they are often doomed, caught in a complex never-ending web.

In contrast, the powerful and well-heeled enjoy the benefit of a premium defence. They whose criminality appears intentional and international have enough resources to hire a phalanx of lawyers.

A question of housing

The law sometimes lacks sensitivity and can be ruthless and remorseless. The marginalised are deprived of the basic right to affordable housing and treated as expendable. Policy moves to resolve this issue often appear cosmetic.

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Parliamentarians will offer assistance in such circumstances. The obvious profit here is political power.

It seems like one is at the mercy of those with financial clout.

When we say we follow the ’rule of law’, we must remember who writes the laws, changes the laws and prescribes the laws – parliamentarians. The responsibility to remove unjust laws, change or upgrade them is within their scope.

A recent case of families being evicted from where they have stayed for three generations illustrates the problem.

The settlers clear the land and start life.

The government later sells the same land to some developer.

The developer exercises the legal right to develop the property.

The uprooted are turned into “illegal squatters” overnight.

The government of the day is clueless and powerless.

The affected settlers are offered a pittance.

Taxpayers’ funds are used to mitigate the problem.

The law once again becomes helpless. If this were not a tragedy, it would be a comedy. It is a vicious cycle.

Power-crazed leaders and oppressive laws

Laws are often used against critics without hesitation. Some who may be innocent are detained under oppressive laws designed for suppression and subjugation. Political megalomaniacs and delinquent psychopaths will always be on a witch-hunt to usurp laws for their own ends.

Double-crossing political leaders, some parliamentarians and parties end up as subservient political eunuchs. They may serve corporate interests or themselves have vested interests.

Frustrated citizens may feel these leaders should be impeached and removed from their gilded seats of power – which may not be a far-fetched solution.

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Several of these lawmakers are also ‘lawbreakers’! Just look at their uncouth and shameless behaviour as they utter profane words in the august house of Parliament.

A higher moral law, a spiritual presence even

Turning to a higher moral law (in contrast to legal laws) that appeal to conscience is often ineffective. NGOs and socially concerned groups usually subscribe and submit to the former. Unfortunately, these groups are often derided and defeated.

Some have a personal belief in a spiritual presence, which intuitively compels them to struggle for that which is meaningful and purposeful. These are the idealistic voiceless, who usually lose the most.

The compelling conviction that a higher incontestable law exists above democracy, above a moral law and every other law is always ignored or crushed.  Some even interpret and misuse divine law to promote greed, power and racial separation.

Are we not entrusted to decipher the mandate of the heavens? Is it not a responsibility to seek good beyond the norms of comfort? But humanity is unfortunately arrogant.

The sense of the sacred that that we encounter while engaging in the living treasures of life is repeatedly broken by covenants of an ordinary mandate. We have, in reality, only a limited understanding of morality and righteousness.

Should this not encourage us to embark on a relentless search for illumination and betterment? When the mandate of trust to honour, care, protect and uplift life, the environment and all living creatures is abused – the heavens break the bond with humanity!

With the eye of the soul, we have to rehabilitate, restore and redeem those who engage in criminality from their own frailties, vulnerabilities and wounds. Otherwise, how do we seize and lay claim to the struggle to be virtuous and innocent?

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Love of the law?

Within legal circles, there are those who profess to love the law passionately. One must ask a couple of fundamental questions though:

  • Is the law in service of humanity or the reverse?
  • Does that love for the law exceed (love for) humanity?

We need to align the compass of our justice system and laws to better serve humanity.

If the law is considered sacrosanct, so must its twin – judicial dignity. If judicial officers are eventually drawn by the commercial or political sphere of life, it raises the question, by implication, whether they were ever fully moulded or formed as guardians of the law. It suggests their remuneration in retirement cannot withstand the enticement of monetisation.

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