Have early trials for those charged under Sosma, lawyers urge

Lawyers say the trial for terrorism-related cases should begin early because the accused are denied bail and risk staying in prison indefinitely. (Reuters pic)

PETALING JAYA: Chief Judge of Malaya Azahar Mohamed should take steps to ensure those charged with terrorism-related offences are given early trial dates as they cannot be freed on bail, lawyers said.

Moreover, they said, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 allowed accused persons who had been acquitted by the trial court to remain in jail until the prosecution had exhausted its appeal in the Federal Court.

Lawyer A Srimurugan said Azahar could set up a specialised court or appoint additional judges to try those charged with terrorism offences.

“Such courts could be set up in Kuala Lumpur or selected towns,” he told FMT in response to the late trial dates fixed for two accused charged with supporting and in possession of materials related to the defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorist group.

Storekeeper S Thanagaraj’s trial has been scheduled from Sept 21 while taxi driver V Balamurugan’s starts on Oct 26.

Their trials will be heard before High Court judges stationed in Kuala Lumpur due to security reasons.

Thanagaraj and Balamurugan are among 12 men who were arrested by police last October.

A Srimurugan.

Srimurugan said there was a “practice direction” that all terrorism-related trials be held in Kuala Lumpur but that should not stop Azahar from appointing additional judges to dispose of the cases expeditiously.

”The liberty of persons must be jealously guarded as it also about human rights,” he added.

Lawyer Baljit Sidhu said the Criminal Procedure Code stated that a trial shall commence within 90 days from the date the accused was charged.

“The trial for terrorism-related cases should begin even earlier because they are denied bail and risk staying in prison indefinitely.

Additionally, those acquitted by the trial court can still be retained in prison until the prosecution exhausts its appeal up to the apex court,” he added.

He said it could take up to four years for the Federal Court to finally decide whether those charged were guilty or otherwise.

“It will be a tall order for accused persons to file a suit for malicious prosecution if they are finally acquitted but their families would have suffered financially,” he added.

N Sivananthan.

Lawyer N Sivananthan hoped the government would table amendments to Sosma and other related legislation for judges to have the discretion to offer bail for serious offences.

“Recently a High Court judge held that a provision in Sosma is unconstitutional as it does not give the court the discretion to grant bail even to those charged with terror-related charges,” he said.

However, he said, some other High Court judges were reluctant to accept that ruling, resulting in confusion.

“I hope the Attorney-General’s Chambers will prepare the amendments for the government to make the changes in the legislature,” he added.