MP SPEAKS I refer to the statements by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein stating that special courts to try militants will be set up.
Such special courts are unnecessary, create an unhealthy precedent and may pose a threat to fundamental liberties.
There is no evidence produced by the authorities that the existing system of criminal courts is not able to deal with cases involving terrorism.
There have been many convictions in terrorism-related cases and heavy sentences have also been meted out by the courts. For example, on June 30, 2015, the KL High Court sentenced a father and son to 18 and 12 years imprisonment respectively for supporting terrorist activities. Hence, why the necessity for special courts?
To put it another way, the authorities must first prove that the present court system is not working properly or is ineffective, before proposing setting up special courts. There must be great caution and care in doing anything which may tamper with the rights of accused persons, irrespective of the crime they are accused of.
The establishment of special courts may simply create a comforting perception that terrorism is being effectively combatted. But the real way to fight terrorism is through better policing and intelligence work, and increased cooperation with regional and global allies.
Setting up a special category of courts in criminal cases may also be in breach of Article 8 of the Federal Constitution which provides that ‘all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law’. The constitution does not allow any derogation from the provisions of Article 8, save in the case of ordinances promulgated during an Emergency under Article 150.
Unlike persons charged in ordinary criminal courts, those brought before the proposed special courts will inevitably be categorised and viewed separately from other defendants. This will create the danger of erosion of the presumption of innocence, which is a cornerstone of our criminal justice system.
It must always be remembered that person charged for a terrorism-related offence may not be guilty at all, and may eventually be acquitted. This is why the criminal justice system must make no distinction between types of offences; innocence or guilt is not dependent upon the type of crime, but on the facts of each case.
The situation is made worse by the fact that terrorism-related defendants already face extraordinary evidential rules as their trials will be governed by the special provisions of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma).
We recognise that terrorism is a serious threat which must be dealt with firmly.
But we must not depart from the basic ideas of fairness entrenched in our democratic constitution, on the excuse of fighting terrorism.
Treating fairly even the worst type of offender, is the hallmark of a great nation.
N SURENDRAN is the MP for Padang Serai and a vice-president of PKR.