01 March 01 

MGG Pillai

Murder And Law

Murder is not a baillable offence.  Any one arrested, even on suspicion, must be in remand until the trial is over.  The grandson of a former finance minister is on trial for murder and he has been behind bars since his arrest.  But the son of a motor car dealer is not.

     He was arrested six weeks ago outside a pub in Seremban where he allegedly shot dead a worker in a car spare parts shop.  His father is a well-known man but that is no excuse to break the law.

     He was allowed bail at express instructions of a senior officer in the Attorney-General's Chambers. The Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Norian Mai, in apportioning blame, did not explain why the police did not object.

     The government promises an investigation, but that is neither here nor there.  There should already have been several parallel investigations, at every branch of government involved in it, and steps taken to ensure it would not happen again.  This is serious enough for punishment.

     Saying they obeyed orders did not prevent the conviction of those in Nazi Germany and Wartime Japan in the war crimes trials that followed the end of World War II.  In the political context, these events in Malaysia take on a confrontational tinge betweend government and people.

     Besides, the courts grant bail.  Why was it then allowed?  Did he not know the rules about bail and murder suspects?  Why did not the court staff, well versed in these nitty gritty matters, alert the magistrate?  Did not the police in Seremban know that murder is not a baillable offence?  Did not the lawyers involved in the case know that?  As officers of the court, they had the bounden duty to point this out when bail was asked for.  Did they?

     What frightens is not that bail was granted but that they were carried out without realising it was forbidden and that none bothered to question it.  The police cannot blame higher authority for its acts of commission and omission. The courts cannot hide behind the fiction that the Attorney-General's Chambers had ordered that bail be granted.  That should have been questioned.

     That several agencies of the law conspired to break the law is what we have unfortunately come to expect.  Murders are left unsolved.  Promises made are quickly forgotten.

     We do not not only know who killed the Methodist School Girl in a tunnel within sight of the police headquarters at Bukit Aman in Kuala Lumpur, but the tunnel is now back as the haunt of drug addicts and ne'er do wells that one walks through the tunnel at one's peril.  The police promised to bring whoever shot dead the then state assemblyman for Lunas last year "soon", but is all but forgotten.

     It is not confined to murders.  Try and report a burglary or a motor accident.  The runaround you get at the police station is worse when at the end of it all you are told they can do nothing.  But the law requires you have to report if you want to claim on your insurance, and so it becomes yet another form one goes through with no belief the culprit would ever be brought to book.

     No authority bothers about following the law.  When it was pointed out to a former mayor of Kuala Lumpur that parking meters were illegal because it had not been gazetted, he famously replied that he did not care, and those who were issued summonses would be charged.  If traffic offences are not paid, vehicles licences would not be renewed;  the courts have said clearly this should not be.  The Road Transport Department cares not a hoot.  The list is endless.

     The laws of defamation is turned on its head.  Last month, TV3 did not file a defence in a RM100 million defamation suit, and the plaintiff was given judgement in default by an assistant registrar.  Why the TV3 lawyers, from the largest law firm in the country, did not file a defence is any matter.  But it is appealed, and Mr Justice R.K. Nathan, before him the case came, wants the plaintiff to explain his demand for this huge amount.

     Yet the same judge established the principle that the plaintiff need not, in the cases for defamation involving the lawyer, Tommy Thomas.  The Court of Appeal upheld the judge, and is now law.  For him now to demand what he did not allow does raise the distinct and frightening suggestion that the law is used capriciously against those the establishment is unhappy with.

     It should not.  The government, which did not object to the high defamation damages when it was the rage because those benefitting from that were its cronies, siblings and courtiers, now find its satraps and followers paying the price.

     Why has this come about?  When the institutions of state are allowed full licence to harass and constrain the public, an adminstrative and political gridlock ensues. Reversing it to status quo ante is both painful and fraught with political and administrative pressures.  As the government finds to reverse the trend of the past 20 years. Too much has gone wrong for that to be easy.

     The de facto law minister, Rais Yatim, says it should be left to the judges to curtail the high defamation damages.  That is how it should be.  Few can pay what is demanded.  So, it is used to frighten comment and dissent. For a decade and a half, judges were selected not for their erudition and judicial temparament but for their loyalty primarily to the chief justice.

     So, law and justice are debased.  Which is why I am not surprised at bail granted to a murder suspect.  But is anyone in authority bothered about it enough to punish those responsible.  I doubt they are.