Tough, say lawyers of chief justice’s fast track goal

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PETALING JAYA: Newly minted Chief Justice Raus Sharif’s ambition to dispose of criminal cases that carry the death penalty in less than three years is laudable, but realising it will be an uphill task, lawyers said.

They said criminal procedures that governed case proceedings might have to be amended to fast track trials.

Government agencies, the Attorney-General’s Office and criminal lawyers need to jointly support the chief justice’s plan, they said.

Lawyer Shamsul Sulaiman said it was going to be difficult as bureaucracy was involved.

“I wish the CJ all the best because the road to achieve his target will be challenging,” said Shamsul who is a former deputy public prosecutor.

He said murder and dadah trafficking cases could not move fast as there was a small pool of criminal lawyers.

“Trials and appeals are delayed as the accused has a constitutional right to a counsel of his choice,” Shamsul said.

He said cases that involved many accused persons took time to complete as all lawyers must be available on dates proposed by the court.

Shamsul said this in response to Raus’ hope that the time taken for such criminal cases to reach the Federal Court would take less than three years.

The chief justice, who took office on April 1, last week said it could take up to 10 years to reach the final court of appeal.

“If we can do it in one year in the High Court, nine months in the Court of Appeal and nine months in the Federal Court, that would be great.

“It can be earlier but that’s the target,” said Raus,” at his maiden press conference.

Raus’ successor as Court of Appeal president, Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, said these cases needed to be expedited as those charged could not be offered bail.

“We don’t want convicted persons having to linger in prison for years. Just imagine if at the end of the day, they are acquitted, (then) they have been held in remand for six, seven years,” said Zulkefli who was also at the press conference.

Meanwhile, Shamsul said the court should raise the fees it paid to assigned counsel to represent accused persons who could not afford to engage lawyers of their choice.

“The counsel could then bring along a junior partner to assist him during proceedings. This could also be a training ground to expand the current pool of criminal lawyers,” he said.

Shamsul said he was suggesting a raise in fees so that the assigned counsel could also pay his assistant.

He said all pre-trial procedures which had been codified into law should be fully utilised.

Lawyer T Vijayandran suggested that formal witnesses such as police photographers, storekeepers (custodians of exhibits), chemists and finger print experts should only be required to provide a witness’ statement to expedite trials.

“They could be cross examined and re-examined but the time taken by the prosecution to complete their case could be shortened,” he said.

He said the practice of charging accused persons in the Magistrates’ Court and then transferring them to the High Court for trial should be done away with.

“The current procedure is a waste of time as the magistrate has no jurisdiction to hear such cases. Instead, the prosecution should charge the accused in the High Court,” he said.

He said a High Court registrar could fix a timetable to ensure the prosecution obtained post-mortem, DNA, and chemist reports to begin trial as soon as possible.

Vijayandran said currently it took 18 months to commence trial because the prosecution was unable to obtain the reports on time, before the case was sent to the High Court.

He said the court must also be prepared to give accused persons a discharge not amounting to an acquittal if the prosecution took time to prepare its case.

Most importantly, he said, trial judges should provide written judgments on time after an appeal was made to the Court of Appeal.

” In cases that involve the death penalty, appeals cannot be heard without written judgments,” he added.