Prison chief’s concern valid but community service not practical, say lawyers

Suspects being brought to court in Bukit Mertajam recently to be charged with violating the movement control order.

PETALING JAYA: The prisons director-general has valid concern that old inmates could be infected with the Covid-19 virus but his proposal that those found guilty of violating the movement control order (MCO) be allowed to do social work is not practical under the present climate, lawyers said.

They said it was best for suspects to be charged later, the courts to impose lighter sentences or they be issued tickets to pay a compound.

Lawyer T Gunaseelan said prisons were overcrowded and it was common knowledge that inmates were not in the best of health.

“Another major crisis is waiting to happen when new prisoners infect the older ones, and the government will have to deal with the matter and this includes screening and conducting tests on convicts and prison staff,” he said.

Gunaseelan said the government could also be sued for negligence by family members of prisoners if they succumb to the virus.

“The government is unlikely to defend such a suit because the Malaysian Bar and interest groups had already warned of the danger of sending new prisoners to jail,” he told FMT.

Prisons director-general Zulkifli Omar had suggested to the judiciary that judges utilise the Offenders Compulsory Attendance Act 1954 to order MCO offenders to do compulsory community work instead of sending them to jail.

Zulkifli had sent a letter dated April 2 to chief registrar of the Federal Court Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh to consider implementing his proposal.

Lawyer A Srimurugan said Zulkifli’s recommendation was noble but not practical under the present circumstances due to health risks and logistics problems.

“Where are the offenders going to be sent to do community service and what about the exposure to health risks if proper personal equipment is not given?” he asked.

He said offenders could do social work after the MCO is lifted but also felt the court could impose lighter sentences as the offence is committed during an exceptional time.

Lawyer Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali said police could offer police bail to MCO offenders and ask them to go to court later if the public prosecutor decides to frame charges.

“The courts should temper justice with mercy and impose a lighter sentence like a minimal fine, a day’s jail or bind them over for good behaviour,” he said.

Alternatively, he said, offenders could be given tickets to pay a compound fine not exceeding RM1,000.