Friday, April 24, 2015

Malaysian Bar: Parliamentary Committees Must be Established to Strengthen the Legislative Process

Press Release | 
Friday, 24 April 2015 06:12pm
ImageThe Malaysian Bar refers to news reports on the proposal by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department YB Puan Hajah Nancy Shukri that proposed legislation be discussed in a parliamentary committee before being tabled in Parliament.

Parliamentary committees play an invaluable role in the work of democratic legislatures.  One or more parliamentary committees should be tasked with scrutinising and deliberating proposed bills in detail before they are tabled in Parliament.  They should also seek feedback from stakeholders and members of the public.  Thus, when a bill is eventually tabled in Parliament, it would be based on the consideration and findings of the parliamentary committee.  In the result, Parliament would be more informed and better equipped to make appropriate decisions in the passage of a law, or amendments to a law.  One example is the sophisticated system of specialised parliamentary committees in the United Kingdom that exist primarily to consider proposed legislation in detail. 

In contrast, none of our existing parliamentary committees appears to be specifically tasked with reviewing proposals relating to new legislation or amendments to existing legislation.  A bill is tabled in the Dewan Rakyat, generally by the Executive, and then passed through both Houses of Parliament with little or no prior scrutiny or in-depth debate by the Members of Parliament.  The process of law-making in Malaysia thus lacks consultation, and is extremely “top-down” and non-inclusive.   Moreover, once a bill is tabled in the Dewan Rakyat, the time allocated for debate is often startlingly insufficient, and its passage into law is frequently rushed.

The Malaysian Bar is perturbed by the inordinate speed with which the Prevention of Terrorism Bill 2015 (“POTA”) and the amendments to the Sedition Act 1948 were passed by the Dewan Rakyat.  POTA was tabled on 30 March 2015 and passed at 2:25 am on 7 April 2015, after only 14 hours of debate.  The amendments to the Sedition Act 1948 were tabled on 7 April 2015 and passed at 2:30 am on 10 April 2015, after merely 12 hours of debate.  

There was clearly inadequate time and opportunity for mature consideration, proper reflection and rigorous debate in respect of these significant pieces of legislation.  Otherwise, the Members of Parliament might well have realised that both POTA and the amendments to the Sedition Act 1948 are contrary to the rule of law and also unnecessary, and should have been withdrawn.  This flaw in our legislative process may have contributed to the reality that Malaysians are now burdened with these oppressive laws that are abhorrent to human rights, civil liberties and the principles of natural justice.
 
The Sedition Act 1948 is a clear example of one such oppressive law that continues to exist, and be used and abused, although it should have been repealed a very long time ago.  In this regard, it has been reported that the persons who protested against a church in Taman Medan, Selangor on 19 April 2015 are to be investigated under the Sedition Act 1948.

The Malaysian Bar reiterates that there should be no prosecution of any person under the Sedition Act 1948.  In any event, use of the Sedition Act 1948 will not solve the apparent underlying fissures in that community, which could be due to intolerance, prejudice or distrust.  Indeed, any prosecution would only serve to compound the problem.  The Sedition Act 1948 is not, and cannot be, the panacea for discord or conflict in society.  Education, discourse, understanding and awareness are the keys to unity and harmony, and not archaic laws that trample on fundamental liberties and prescribe harsh penalties.  Moreover, if there was any unlawful conduct in the Taman Medan incident, action should be taken against the protestors under the provisions of the Penal Code, such as for rioting or criminal intimidation.  The Sedition Act 1948 is wholly unnecessary.  

Further, the police and cabinet members should desist from premature declarations on whether a crime has been committed.  Cabinet members should avoid rash statements suggesting or directing that there should be prosecutions for these crimes. 

The Malaysian Bar urges the Government to implement the Minister’s suggestion regarding parliamentary committees, as a first step towards parliamentary reform and the goal of establishing a Parliament that represents the people both in name and in substance.  In this regard, we recall the immortal words of Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong Almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman ibni Almarhum Tuanku Muhammad, the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong of the Federation of Malaya who, in his speech to the Members of Parliament at the very first session of the first-ever Dewan Ra’ayat on 12 September 1959, said:

We urge all of you, the members of this new Parliament of ours, always to approach your deliberations as law-makers in the highest spirit of dedicated service to our nation.

We urge that your bearing should be related to the importance of your tasks and consonant with the dignity of the House.

We urge you always to remember that you are the representatives of all the people without exception, and that what you do here shall be done for the benefit of all the people.

With the creation of parliamentary committees and the ensuing improvements in legislative decision-making, it is hoped that Parliament will eschew offensive laws that oppress Malaysians.

Steven Thiru
President
Malaysian Bar

24 April 2015

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