© Free Malaysia Today (used with permission)
by V Anbalagan
PETALING JAYA: All prisons in the country should be equipped with facilities to conduct virtual hearings so that criminal appeals can go on uninterrupted, says the Malaysian Bar.
Its president Salim Bashir said it was unfair to postpone cases of prisoners who were appealing against their conviction and sentence.
“Their liberty is at stake when appeals have to be postponed because other inmates and prison staff are reported to be infected with the Covid-19 virus,” he told FMT.
He said appeals would have to be conducted in courts, with the appellants participating online from prison.
Currently, all prisoners have to be brought to court to have their appeals heard although Parliament last year amended the necessary laws to conduct remote hearings.
Salim said this in response to reports that the Tapah prison and its staff quarters in Perak would be placed under enhanced movement control order (EMCO) from tomorrow to March 1 following a surge in Covid-19 cases recently, with 55 infections reported so far.
This is the second time that the Tapah Prison and its staff quarters have been placed under the EMCO, with the first time being from Oct 23 to Nov 4 last year.
He said that over the past one year, several prisons were reported to be placed under the EMCO and this led to appeal hearings to be adjourned.
Salim, however, said criminals trials had to be conducted in open court as it, among others, involved delivery of exhibits, taking of evidence from witnesses and accused persons.
“We feel appeals can be conducted without the presence of appellants who are in prison,” he said, adding that the prison authorities and the judiciary could work out the necessary procedures since the law had been amended.
He said this would benefit lawyers representing those convicted of serious crimes like murder and drug trafficking, and counsel appearing for those under the National Legal Aid Foundation.
Salim, who also practices criminal law, said lawyers hardly need to meet clients before proceedings but it could be done in the midst of the appeal should the need arise.
He said the Sungai Buloh prison, which only catered for prisoners awaiting trial, now facilitated lawyers to communicate with clients by way of Zoom hearing.
“This enables the counsel to take instruction before the trial starts in court,” he added.