As shootings continue to occur on a daily basis, police have resorted to reviving a little-known law for what they say is a bid to take serious criminals likely to be behind these incidents, off the streets.

This law, the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (PCA), is now being used to arrest and hold hundreds of people under Ops Cantas, under which police are mounting roadblocks and conducting forced searches nationwide. 

NONEThe revival of the PCA comes as calls are made for the reinstatement of the repealed Emergency (Public Order and Crime Prevention) Ordinance 1969 to deal with crime. 

In a series of questions and answers below, Malaysiakini attempts to shed some light on the PCA.

What is the PCA? 

It is an Act passed by Parliament in 1959 to control "criminals, members of secret societies and other undesirable persons".

The PCA pre-dates preventive laws such as the now repealed Internal Security Act 1960 and Emergency (Public Order and Crime Prevention) Ordinance 1969. 

However, it bears similarities to the another repealed Act - the Restricted Residence Act 1933.

In a nutshell, the PCA allows arrest for certain crimes, followed by an inquiry to determine if the accused should be placed on a list (referred to as 'the register) and under restrictions.

It also stipulates the remand period to facilitate the inquiry, the terms for restrictions and penalties for contravening these terms. 

What crimes does it affect?
Some lawyers argue that the PCA does not specify the offences that warrant arrest. However, the PCA does provide a schedule of offences that could land someone on the register (see below for explanation of 'the register'):

The schedule includes:
  • Membership in a triad or secret society that commits violence or extortion;
  • Trafficking of opium, candu, bhang or other harmful drugs;
  • Human trafficking;
  • Illegal gambling; and
  • Those aged above 21 who have been convicted at least three times for offences involving dishonesty or violence.
Does it allow for detention?

Yes. However, a magistrate must deliver a remand order for different stages of detention. The longest a person can be held in custody is 71 days:
  • 24 hours immediately after arrest;
  • 14 days after that, upon a remand notice from a magistrate;
    (This must be supported by a statement from a police officer not below the rank of assistant superintendent)
  • 28 days after that, upon a remand notice from a magistrate; 
    (This must be supported by a statement by a public prosecutor and a police officer not below the rank of assistant superintendent supporting an inquiry) and
  • 28 days after that, upon a remand notice by a magistrate, if he/she feels more time is needed to complete the inquiry.
Some lawyers argue that the wording in the PCA suggests that the magistrate would have to grant a remand order as long as a justifying written statement is provided in two of the stages above. 

They argue that this is regardless of the content of the statement.

Lawyers also argue that it is not a 'detention law' per se, but more a tool for investigation.

What is an inquiry?

An inquiry is a procedure by a inquiry officer who reviews evidence to determine whether the person arrested under the PCA is guilty of a registrable offence. 

If yes, the inquiry officer will report to the home minister the grounds for placing someone on the register. The inquiry officer is appointed by the minister. 

Can the accused defend himself in an inquiry?

The PCA is silent on this. However, it does state that the inquiry officer can hold an inquiry without the presence of the accused. 

Some lawyers argue that even though the PCA does not specify that defence is not allowed, this would be trumped by Article 5 of the federal constitution, which deals with the right to life and liberty.

Can the accused appeal the decision to put him or her on the register?
Yes, the appeal can be made to the home minister within 14 days of the inquiry officer's report to the minister. The minister can reverse the inquiry officer's decision and the accused must then be taken to a magistrate for release.

What is the register?

A list of people who are placed under restriction and under strict rules and supervision by the police.

Like those previously placed under the now repealed Restricted Residence Act 1933, individuals are escorted to a specified district, fingerprinted, photographed and required to report to a police station at stipulated intervals. 

Among other rules include restriction from appearing at public place between sunset and sunrise. They are also not allowed to 'consort or habitually associate' with anyone without permission.

If they are 'near' a place where violence was committed, they will need to justify their presence or be found guilty of contravening the restriction order. 

Penalties for contravening the restrictions include jail time and fines. The same goes for those consorting with people on the register without police permission.

Can someone be placed under house arrest?

The PCA does not use the words 'house arrest' but states that police can restrict someone to "remain within doors" between certain specified hours.

How long can someone be placed under restriction?

A maximum of five years at a time, at the home minister's discretion. The minister can place someone under restriction more than once.

What else happens to people on the register?
Registered persons will need to stay out of trouble. A registered person will get double the jail term and whipping if convicted for any crime.

Can someone be removed from the register?

Yes, upon instruction from the minister.

~ Malaysiakini