Sunday, August 1, 2021

Guidelines won’t stop abuse of SOP law, say rights lawyers

Lawyers for Liberty says criminal penalties should also be proportionate to the gravity of the offence.

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Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) today criticised the RM10,000 compound for SOP offences, saying the punishment under the Emergency (Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 remains open to abuse despite the guidelines announced by law minister Takiyuiddin Hassan last week.

It said those who are issued summonses for misdemenours such as failure to wear face masks or to observe physical distancing would still be “at the mercy of enforcement officers”.

“They could still face a maximum compound of RM1,500, an exorbitant amount that is higher than the nation’s current minimum wage,” LFL coordinator Zaid Malek added.

“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 made worse by the ill-defined categories of offences listed under the guidelines which will lead to confusion and inconsistency in its implementation.”

Takiyuddin, at a press conference on March 17, said offences would be categorised as serious, moderate or normal, with compound amounts corresponding to the severity of the offence.

He also laid out hypothetical scenarios as examples and said that discounts would be given to those who pay their compounds within a week or two of the date of issue.

He said the government would also take into consideration appeals for a reduction in compound by persons with disabilities, those in the B40 group, students, and the chronically ill.

Zaid said those who had already been issued summonses and who had paid the compound in excess of the amount stated in the SOP would have already suffered financial setback without any recourse.

“The guidelines introduced by the law minister on March 17, almost three weeks after the ordinance was gazetted and one week after it came into force, are irrefutable evidence that the ordinance was enacted without proper consideration of the ramifications it might have on the public at large,” he added.

In a statement, he also noted the rule that criminal penalties should be proportionate to the gravity of the offence.

“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,” he said.

“We urge the government to cease implementing piecemeal and ineffective laws that lack any clear purpose and place excessive burden to the public. While there is a need to ensure compliance with 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.”

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