|Laws must gel with the realities of present day|
|Sunday, 01 July 2012 09:54am|
©The Star (Used by permission)
The Star Says
EIGHT cats under their care died of hunger and dehydration during the Hari Raya holidays last year. On Thursday, a court fined the owners of animal care centre Petknode a total of RM6,000 after they pleaded guilty to 30 counts of animal neglect.
Earlier in the week, another court fined the owner of the pet dog that mauled a 74-year-old man to death in Subang Jaya RM2,000 in default two months' jail.
Both cases generated much debate because the fines were deemed to be paltry sums that do not reflect the gravity of the offences.
The two cases exemplified the divide between the court of public opinion and the courts of law. But the ball is actually in the court of the lawmakers.
In the Petknode case, the magistrate made it clear that she was bound by provisions under the Animal Act, which state that offenders must be given a chance to pay a fine before being sentenced to imprisonment, when she fined them the maximum amount allowed by the law. In the earlier case, the magistrate, too, was bound by Section 289 of the Penal Code which carries a penalty of up to six months in jail or a RM2,000 fine or both.
It is a reality that in our statute books, we still find laws with provisions and clauses that make little sense in present-day circumstances.
Likewise, the maximum sentences for various offences covered by our laws may also not gel with the realities of today.
Under the Animal Act, for example, the sum of RM200 for animal neglect appears odd when you consider that pet owners spend more than that each month to care for their pets. If our people feel that the maximum fines in both these instances no longer reflect modern-day realities, then our job is to petition lawmakers to change the law.
A mature parliament will always find the time to look into existing legislation and make changes.
To be fair, no society has successfully come up with the correct formula that will make everyone agree that justice has not only been done, but is seen to be done, each time a verdict is delivered.
There will always be variance in the way sentences are meted out, whether for a minor or major offence, because of prevailing circumstances and mitigating factors.
We must also be careful that public outrage over a particular offence does not send out the wrong signals to the magistrate or judge to go beyond what they are allowed to do, or be moved to do. The mark of a civilised society is that justice must always be tempered with mercy.
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