PETALING JAYA: There is an urgent need for the underprivileged to be given early access to legal representation, especially when it comes to cases that carry the death sentence, a criminal lawyer said.
Samantha Chong said the poor and underprivileged were vulnerable as they could not afford lawyers.
She said that normally, an accused facing capital punishment will first be charged at the magistrates court.
And if they couldn’t afford to appoint a lawyer, the court would appoint one for them but only when the case is transferred to the High Court , which is typically “a year plus” after they are arrested.
The gap, Chong said, could reduce their counsel’s chances of obtaining important evidence such as CCTV recordings that could save them, in this case, from the hangman’s noose.
She went on to say there was a need to understand the importance of legal advice at the point of arrest.
A suspect would be in a vulnerable position almost immediately if he or she had no access to a lawyer after being arrested.
“Most of them do not understand their rights. And sometimes there is a language barrier.
“When people are deprived of competent legal representation, they might stand a lesser chance of putting forward their defence effectively.
“In some cases that I’ve handled, the suspects didn’t know what they were signing,” she told FMT, referring to their statements taken at the police station.
Chong’s comments come in the wake of a video — which has since gone viral — of a wailing woman, being escorted by a policewoman, after she was sentenced to death for the possession and distribution of drugs.
According to reports, the single mother of nine, identified as Hairun Jalmani, was sentenced by the Tawau High Court in Sabah on Friday.
The 55-year old fish seller was charged with possessing syabu weighing 113.9g in 2018. She was assigned a court-appointed lawyer in the High Court.
Chong said she also knew of cases where the trafficking charges were reduced despite the accused being in possession of a larger quantity of drugs when they were nabbed.
“Is this fair?”