PETALING JAYA: The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) must draw up guidelines for lawyers to make representations to reduce or drop charges against accused persons, a former Malaysian Bar president said.
Salim Bashir said the prosecution would only gain the confidence of the public if it was transparent and accountable.
“The AGC might have internal guidelines or a policy for dealing with representations but this is not accessible to lawyers and the public,” he said.
He said lawyers and the public were unclear under what circumstances a representation was allowed or rejected.
“We have come across some cases being accepted but not others although the facts are similar,” he said.
Salim said he was aware that AGC officers from the prosecution division would call the investigation officers for their input before a decision was made.
He said the attorney-general, who is also the public prosecutor, must be accountable as he filed charges on behalf of the public against accused persons to maintain law and order.
He said this in response to claims last week by whistleblower Edisi Siasat through its Twitter account that former attorney-general Tommy Thomas had classified as NFA (no further action) a drug case against tycoon Vincent Tan’s son.
It had claimed that Tan’s son had been arrested for trafficking in a “very large quantity of drugs” and that there was corruption.
Thomas, who denied the corruption allegation, said lawyers of the accused had submitted written representations to the AGC to reconsider the decision to charge Tan’s son, adding that this was normal in criminal matters.
To his recollection, Thomas said, the charges were reduced after the representations and investigation papers were studied, the relevant provisions reviewed and discussions held with the case officers.
It is unclear what finally transpired in court.
Salim said the Federal Constitution gave the attorney-general absolute discretion whether to amend, withdraw or maintain any charge.
Lawyer Samantha Chong Yin Xin said although the AGC had a code of ethics and prosecutorial guidelines for its deputy public prosecutors, these had not been made public.
The public does not know what is the consideration made by the prosecutor. This can give rise to a perception that there has been unequal treatment of persons who face different charges for what appears to be the same criminal act,” she said.
Chong said the function of the prosecution division in the AGC was important as it dealt with charges that carried the death penalty, long jail terms, and whipping upon conviction by the courts.
“Whatever action taken by the prosecution affects the constitutional right to life and liberty of the accused person,” she said.
She suggested that the AGC emulate the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK which had clear and specific guidelines for the prosecution of drug offences.
“The publication of prosecutorial guidelines will certainly help to combat corruption and reduce suspicion of corrupt practices,” she said.
Lawyer Najib Zakaria suggested that the AGC invite lawyers to make oral arguments as to why charges should be reviewed.
“Now we send a written representation after interviewing clients. We get a reply where we only know if we were successful or otherwise,” he said.
Najib acknowledged it would entail more work for AGC officers if they were to meet lawyers before a decision was made, but that this was in the interests of justice.