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Friday, August 29, 2008

Why The Unholy Haste?

Many, including the opposition, are troubled by the unholy haste with which the DNA Identification Bill is being rushed through parliament. Their complaint is founded on two concerns. First, that the bill is not well thought through and substantially erodes fundamental safeguards intended for an accused under the criminal justice system. Secondly, that it appears that the principal aim of the exercise to target Anwar Ibrahim. To that end, he may be its first casualty.

That the timing is convenient cannot be disputed. It not unreasonably lends to an inference that the Government, and by that I mean the Barisan Nasional and more particularly UMNO, hope to be able to harness the significant prosecutorial advantage that the proposed statute offers to its own political benefit. However, in as much as one may question the propriety or even the morality of the decision to table the bill in the way it has been and the apparent complicity of the Speaker in that process, there is no legal obstacle to their doing so. The Speaker controls parliamentary process and the Barisan Nasional has a majority in parliament.

As such, if the Barisan Nasional has its way, and it appears that it will, the bill will be law very soon. This does not however necessarily mean that the law is constitutional. I do not think it is for rendering the right of an accused to a fair trial predicated on the presumption of innocence illusory. In this, I share the reservations so succinctly expressed by Mr Edmund Bon, Chairman of the Bar Council’s Human Rights Sub-Committee. These were set out in Malaysiakini (DNA Bill tabled for second reading; August 26th 2008) and I take the liberty of setting them out here:
  • There are no safeguards in relation to the storage and testing of DNA samples and for DNA profiles as well as how they are to be handled. No regulations were prescribed.
  • No provision for the accused to do his or her own independent DNA test which means that the accused have no way of testing the authenticity of the DNA sample claimed to be his or hers.
  • Categories of persons from whom samples may be taken from are to arbitrary and wide meaning that regardless of whether or not one is being investigated for an offence, DNA sample can be extracted from them.
  • Criteria and power safeguards are lacking in relation to suspected and convicted persons rendering it susceptible to manipulation
  • Privacy rights is illusory and those who refuse to provide samples will be subject to punishment and criminalisation
  • The bill would mean that those who have not been charged or convicted prior to the passing of the bill would be affected by it
  • Destruction of samples should not only be permissive but mandatory after a certain period of time as this provision will leave the head of the DNA databank discretionary powers to do anything with it.
  • Clause 18 of the bill gives no assurance that the extracted DNA sample is not to be used and stored somewhere else after it has been used for a particular case.
  • Clause 24 of the bill states that the extracted samples are conclusive evidence which means that the court and the accused have no authority to question the process of the DNA profiling.
  • Without proper DNA data protection laws, the power to export DNA samples to foreign law agencies should be curtailed all together.
I do not take issue with the need for law on the subject, many other jurisdictions have legislation in place to allow for DNA profiling and testing. Any law introduced to achieve the stated aims must however not undermine the rights of an accused person. The proposed law regrettably does exactly that. As noted by Tommy Thomas, a senior constitutional lawyer, in an interview with Aniza Damis of the New Straits Times (Spotlight: CSI Malaysian style; 24th August 2008) the proposed law in effect allows for a reversal of the presumption of innocence. It will compel an accused person to prove his innocence by battling the purported conclusiveness of evidence collected. These are serious concerns that warrant closer scrutiny.

In the current climate, the fact of judicial scrutiny being brought to bear is not sufficient to assuage these very grave reservations. The trial courts will apply the law as enacted and, judging by recent precedents, will be compelled to take an unduly narrow view of the freedom of an individual to a fair trial in these circumstances on the basis of parliamentary, as opposed to constitutional, supremacy. Added to this is the fact that serious concerns have arisen as to the independence of the Judiciary, particularly in light of the conclusions of the Lingam Commission of Enquiry. Confidence in the judiciary is at an all time low and measures aimed at restoring confidence are still very much on the drawing board.

The provisions of the proposed law also give significant powers to the police, an institution whose integrity was brought into serious question by the findings of two prior Royal Commission of Enquiry, one pertaining to an assault on Anwar Ibrahim. As with the Judiciary, recommended measures are still merely a matter of rhetoric.

Given that the implementation of the measures in the proposed law are left to institutions which, as a matter of public record, have been shown to be amongst other things open to abuses of power, including on matters pertaining to Anwar Ibrahim, it is not unsurprising that many fear the worst where the trial of Anwar Ibrahim is concerned. Circumstance lends legitimacy to the fears being expressed.

For all these reasons, it would be a matter of common sense for the Government to stay its hand on the bill to allow for the more comprehensive consideration that so many stakeholders are calling for as well as implementing measures aimed at restoring confidence in these institutions. The Government has, after all, already waited some seven years and, surely, a while longer will not cause any further harm. Conversely, further damage will be done to the Barisan; its already low levels of support may be eroded further by what is being perceived as a display of belligerence and unfairness.



Anonymous said...

Instead of releasing the ISA Detainees, now this pariah regime wants to treat these patriotic citizens as common criminals. Maybe, this regime wants to tell the whole world that the ISA Detainees also sodomized Saiful, so that makes them 'a threat to National Security'. Hitler (picture, above) would be proud of Albar and the BN/Umno regime. If DNA testing is done properly in Malaysia, and it's doubtful Malaysia will do it properly under the present pariah regime, there may be many innocent people released from Malaysian jails. Syed Hamid Albar keeps saying the DNA Bill has nothing to do with DSAI, but the timing of the DNA Bill makes it appear a "Get Anwar" Bill...More

art harun said...

The title of your post Imtiaz is of course rhetorical in nature.

Allow me to however state the obvious.

The reason for the "unholy haste" could be seen sitting directly opposite the PM in today's Parliament sitting. No more, no less.

Anonymous said...

you mean we really don't know why meh?

Anonymous said...

Excelllent and insightful analysis. Even a lay person like me can understand. Did you notice that AAB did not even dare to look at DSAI during the whole time he read out the Budget?

becks said...

I'm not sure how DNA profiling will help with some of the crimes common in Malaysia, such as corporate crimes, breach of trust, snatch thefts, burglaries, child abductions, substance abuse ad nauseum.

Do we really need another method of crime detection, considering we already have at our disposal other tried and tested methods, not forgetting the latest, swearing upon the name of God and religion?

Anonymous said...

Yah Malik

You know whats UNHOLY.... THERE'S NO SUCH THING ke ke ke

Come, come
whoever you are
wanderer, worshipper
lover of learning.....
it does not matter.

Ours is not a
caravan of despair

even if you have
broken your vow
a thousand times

Come, Come
yet come again. rumi

selamat berpuasa and give a rest to the weary mind..... only thoughts shld be on Almighty

ramesh kumar

Seng said...

Not yet seeing the Bill personally, I am confused with the Retrospectivity issue.

According to this, it is not retrospective:

The relevant clauses are:

"Gobind Singh Deo (DAP-Puchong) said the bill does not have any retrospective provision, therefore it cannot be used to extract any DNA samples from Anwar compulsorily."

""From what I have read so far there is no such provision for the bill being enforced at a retrospective date," he said in the lobby."

These statements were reported as at 18 August, 2008.

However ... the Malaysian Bar article dated 26 August, 2008 says a completely different thing.

"The retroactive application of the law on persons presently serving a term of imprisonment is highly unfair as no one who has been charged or convicted prior to the passing of the Act should be affected by the law;"

So, which is it?

Is there retrospective application or not?

I personally think the other loopholes are more concernings. But putting aside the obvious motive to prosecute Anwar, playing devil's advocate, if the Bill was perfect, why is retrospectivity something that we should be afraid of? Can someone explain this to me in a layperson terms, since, if it is done competently and properly (and I do doubt the ability of our Police today), then, isn't this another tool to tell the truth (assuming we have a proper DNA Bill, and not the rubbish we see now)?

Anonymous said...

Being unconstitutional have never stopped them given that the judicial system is pretty crap anyway...

They unconscinable thing about this bill is how it treats so likely due process to protect the rights of what is essentially private rights and property.

The standard is not only not guilty until proven innocent is violated. There is not even a standard of preponderance of evidence to justify state action. Its a hole the size of Grand Canyon to walk through for the authorities...

Its just crappy law making. Not to mention the morality of it...

It just may take Anwar to challenge the constitutionality of it and take the trial to public to stop this..

1 said...

You touch on precisely the point I made more than a week ago. Articulately and broadly expressed. I hope the points you've raised receive their due attention.