Share This

Friday, 22 July 2011

Malaysia should do away with outdated laws to meet human needs

Malaysia should do away with outdated laws

Malaysia still has the Internal Security Act 1960 -- which allows for the detention without trial of people deemed to be threats to national se-curity -- for more than half a century.

The phrase "the law is an ass" is attributed to Charles Dickens.

It originates from Oliver Twist after the character Mr Bumble is told: "The law supposes that your wife acts under your direction".

What one of the foremost classical writers of English literature actually wrote was: "If the law supposes that, the law is an ass, an idiot."

No, he wasn't using grammar akin to the Manglish being taught in our schools today. It was just that the rules of the language were not quite defined during his era.

But as then as in now, many laws can be described as asinine. They have become meaningless through the passage of time but are still in force and have become subjects of ridicule.

In the United States for example, incestuous marriages are not deemed illegitimate in the southern state of Alabama.

Another law in Mississippi states that if one is a parent to two illegitimate children, he or she can be jailed for at least a month.

In New York, adultery is still a crime and one can be fined US$25 for flirting.

It is illegal for a woman to be on the street wearing body-hugging clothes but she can go topless in public, provided she is not doing it for any business.

In Denver, Colorado, the law states that dog catchers must notify dogs of impounding by posting for three consecutive days, a notice on a tree in the city park.

Apparently it is also unlawful to lend one's vacuum cleaner to a next-door neighbour.

More than eight women are not allowed to live in the same house in the state of Tennessee because that would constitute a brothel, while Encyclopaedia Britannica is banned in Texas because it contains a formula for making beer at home.

In President Barack Obama's home state of Illinois, it is now illegal to wear sagging pants. A new law requires pants to be "secured at the waist to prevent the pants from falling below the hips, causing exposure to the person or the person's undergarments."

And there are many comical laws still in force in the United Kingdom.

For example, it is illegal to die in Britain's Houses of Parliament and sticking a postage stamp bearing the Queen upside down is deemed an act of treason.

In Liverpool, where footballers and fans tend to strip off their shirts in celebration of goals, it is illegal for a woman to be topless -- unless she is a clerk in a shop selling tropical fish.

As for the outdated legislation in Malaysia, they are anything but funny.

We still have too many laws that allow for detention without trial, contravening the fundamental principles of human rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and other international conventions.

Malaysia still has the Internal Security Act 1960 -- which allows for the detention without trial of people deemed to be threats to national se-curity -- for more than half a century.

For the record, the ISA has not been used against political opponents since Najib Tun Razak took over as Prime Minister on April 3, 2009.

But it remains in force, despite calls for its repeal by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), the Association for the Pro-motion of Human Rights (Proham), the Bar Council, politicians and civil society organisations.

So do other equally outmoded and detestable edicts such as the Emer-gency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969, the Re-stricted Residence Act 1933, Pre-vention of Crime Act 1959 and the Banishment Act 1959.

Under the EO, detainees can be held for 60 days with a possible extension of two years or more without trial.

In 2005, the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police affirmed that the EO violates international human rights and called for its repeal, saying that it had "outlived its purpose and facilitated the abuse of fundamental liberties".

The detention of six Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) leaders, including Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar under the EO since July 2 for "allegedly being involved with foreign and subversive elements", has again fuelled suspicions of such misuse.

The six were among 30 arrested on June 25 for allegedly supporting Bersih 2.0 and possessing T-shirts with faces of communist leaders on them.

At a time when public confidence in the police and credibility in the rule of law are being questioned, the continued detention of Dr Jeyaku-mar under the EO can only result in more rancour against the Government.

Dr Jeyakumar, the giant killer who thrashed Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) supremo S. Samy Vellu in 2008, may be an unwavering socialist committed to his cause, but he certainly does not fit the image of a dangerous or subversive element.

Enough Malaysians, including his colleagues in the medical fraternity have vouched for his humility and integrity, his selfless passion to help the poor and his peaceful approach to politics.

It's really a bit of a stretch to associate Dr Jeyakumar with intending to "wage war against the King" and instigating the overthrow of the Government.

But if the authorities indeed have any such proof, they should charge him and the others using existing criminal laws.

In the bigger picture, Malaysia as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, is not only expected to meet the principles of human rights but also be seen to be respecting and upholding the rights of its people.

Malaysians deserve to be free from laws that breach basic standards.

Law to meet human needs

Putik Lada By Genevieve Tan

We sometimes forget a simple fact about the law: as our needs grow and change, the law can grow and change with those needs.

WHY do we have the law? In other words, what is the law essentially about?

The law is about our needs. Where there is a need, whether it is to eat or to be protected from harm, the law is created to address those needs.

When you want to understand the law, you need to first understand what is the need behind that law.

For example, Article 9 of the Federal Constitution sets out our right to move and live in any part of Malaysia. Why? Because we need to move and settle wherever we want in our country.

When we needed to protect ourselves from being robbed, the law addressed that need by creating section 390 of the Penal Code setting out the offence of robbery.

Simply put, the law accommodates human needs. With that logic, how can we say that we cannot be protected and loved by the law? How can we also say that the law does not serve us?

We sometimes tend to forget. We also sometimes forget another simple fact about the law: as our needs grow and change, the law can grow and change with those needs.

For example, in response to the public’s need to counter corruption, parliament passed the Anti-Corruption Act 1997 and subsequently replaced it with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009.

To combat money laundering and terrorism financing, the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing Act 2001 was passed.

Mind you, these laws were passed less than ten years ago. Hence, whether or not these laws are effective, the point remains: the law continues to change as it follows our needs.

What does this say? Like us, our Government realises that they have to respond to our needs to curb corruption or to deal with the problem of money laundering.

After all, our Government, like many other governments, serves us, the people, as we serve them. Without each other, our Government cannot work and we cannot live in this country at all.

The law creates regulations. Without the law, we are without order, stability, regulation and consequently, we would be without peace.

Every piece of legal document that you see came from a source. In Malaysia, we wrote these basic laws into a document called the Federal Constitution.

In Britain, the place from where we derived a lot of our laws, it has no written constitution.

So, if we think of this logically, there was no natural source for laws that outlawed one kind of human or another. There simply was the love to protect and support our needs.

And what was the fifth basic law that was passed by Malaysia?

This is set out in Article 5 of our Federal Constitution which states: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty, save in accordance with law.”

What was the source before that fifth basic law?

“This Constitution is the supreme law of the Federation and any law passed after Merdeka Day which is inconsistent with this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.”

This is my third article on the law and if you noticed, I repeat certain themes. Without any disguise, I see the law as a very simple thing. It even protects companies.

For example, section 222 of the Companies Act, 1965 allows a company to be protected from court proceedings if it makes such an application to the court.

Allow me to show you how much more simple and powerful it can get.

The law creates protection, officers of protection and leaders to protect the law. The law was created to love us.

Take another example, the issue of teenage pregnancy. Teenage mothers and their babies are protected by the usual criminal laws and the Child Act 2001.

However, the current laws on unwed teenage mothers do not provide adequate support systems for these mothers who are abandoned by the fathers of the babies and their own families.

As a result, many of these mothers are forced out into the streets or into shelters.

If we want to change the current laws to address the needs of unwed teenage mothers and their babies, we actually can!

Just like with the Anti-Corruption Act, we can act on our need to punish unwed fathers who have abandoned their pregnant teenage partners and update our laws to give better support to these mothers.

Let’s not forget that blame and causation is not the issue here. The issue here is that we have the power to change the law if we love our needs enough.

As public citizens, we are the reason why there are laws in the first place. As public citizens, we outnumber lawyers, ministers, doctors and accountants put together. So by numbers alone, we as public citizens have more power with the law than our professional colleagues do.

Each and every one of us is more powerful than we think. After all, we have the law that was created to love us and to address our needs.

Like in my last article Mirror, mirror on the wall, let’s just keep things simple.

Let’s use the law and ourselves to treat everyone with courtesy, morality and love.

> Putik Lada, or pepper buds in Malay, captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society. For more information about the young lawyers, visit