A lawyers group voiced reservations today over the government’s recent announcement on the need for a police permit for those attending court throughout the two-week lockdown period, calling it an unnecessary restriction that would create “a dangerous precedent”.
Lawyers for Liberty coordinator Zaid Malek said requiring a police permit for the exercise of legal representation infringed on the public right to such representation enshrined in Article 5(3) of the Federal Constitution.
“Lawyers would obviously only go to court to represent their clients and not otherwise,” he said.
“Why then impose a police permit requirement, which allows the police to deny legal representation to the public should they decide to do so?”
Law minister Takiyuddin Hassan said yesterday that the legal services would be allowed to operate during the lockdown period although the sector is not listed as an essential service.
He said lawyers involved in hearings for new charges, remand orders and miscellaneous criminal applications could apply for travel permits from the police while corporate and conveyancing lawyers acting for businesses listed in the essential services sector could seek permission through the international trade and industry ministry’s Covid-19 Intelligent Management System 3.0.
But Zaid said applications would be complicated by the nature of criminal cases which he described as sudden and unpredictable.
“Lawyers may only receive instructions at the 11th hour and may not have the necessary documentation to prove that they have cases in court, especially with clients who are facing fresh charges or remand applications that will only be registered by the courts the morning of the case itself.”
In a statement, he said access to justice should not rely on the permission of enforcement bodies whom he added might have competing interests against those arrested.
“Giving power to the police to decide whether lawyers can go to court to represent clients is akin to a police state.”
He said the government has a duty at all times to ensure that the justice system is operational, adding that this could only be done if lawyers are given free access to represent their clients in court without being “at the mercy of the police”.
“The Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 does not allow any abrogation of the fundamental liberties protected under the Federal Constitution,” he said.