Give bail to offenders, MP tells courts over rise in Covid-19 cases in prisons

Jelutong MP RSN Rayer regrets the death of an 85-year-old inmate due to Covid-19 at the Penang Prison two days ago.

GEORGE TOWN: DAP’s Jelutong MP today urged the courts to allow reasonable bail to offenders who are minors, women and the unhealthy to prevent the spread of Covid-19 for those in detention, following a spike in cases in prisons across the country.

RSN Rayer, who is also a lawyer, said while the Prisons Department’s decision to release inmates who had three or four months remaining was good, the courts must play a role in cutting down overcrowding in prisons.

In a statement today, he said the death of an 85-year-old inmate at the Penang Prison two days ago raised the question of the need to remand and detain prisoners facing bailable and non-bailable offences.

It was reported that the elderly man was charged with murder under Section 302 of the Penal Code last November and was under remand.

Rayer said in the case of M Santhiea v Public Prosecutor, bail was allowed under Section 388 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) by the Appeals Court on Sept 14.

In that case, an 18-year-old college student, charged with the murder of her newborn baby, was released on RM30,000 bail after Rayer brought the case up to the Court of Appeal.

“This (giving of bail) will prevent overcrowding in local prisons and act as a temporary measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” he said.

Under the CPC, “non bailable” offences are offences such as murder, punishable by the death penalty under section 302 of the Penal Code.

If it is an offence which does not have death or life imprisonment penalties, bail can be offered by the courts.

But for cases such as murder, where the punishment is the death penalty, bail cannot be offered, except in exceptional circumstances. These circumstances include if the accused is a woman, aged below 16, or deemed sick.

The Prisons Department has announced it will grant inmates “release on licence” (ROL) in an effort to prevent further Covid-19 infections and reduce crowding in prisons.

The number of active cases among inmates and prison staff throughout the country increased to 1,126 cases today, compared with 673 yesterday, the department said.