© Free Malaysia Today (used with permission)
V Anbalagan -January 28, 2021
PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Bar has urged prison authorities to screen inmates and ensure they are Covid-19 free before they are taken to court, saying that lawyers are potentially at risk of infection.
Its president, Salim Bashir, said the inmates, whether remand or convicted prisoners, would come in close contact with their counsel when trials or appeals are heard.
“Because the infected inmates can be asymptomatic, we urge the prison authorities to take all measures to ensure lawyers and others are not exposed,” he told FMT.
Salim’s comments come in the wake of the resumption of criminal trials since yesterday, despite the movement control order (MCO) still being in effect, which he said poses a great risk to lawyers in court. All in-person trials had been suspended since December.
He said the Bar was also aware of an incident at the High Court in Seremban early this month when 16 accused charged with security offences tested positive for Covid-19.
This resulted in lawyers, deputy public prosecutors and court staff having to undergo self-quarantine for about 10 days.
FMT understands the accused were detained at the Sungai Udang prison in Melaka but were kept at a lock-up in Nilai when their cases were heard for several days.
Salim said the matter was compounded as lawyers would come in close contact with their clients when taking instruction or discussing their cases.
Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat had said in a circular dated Jan 21 that criminal matters would resume on Jan 27 even if the MCO or conditional MCO was still in force. The MCO was first scheduled to end on Jan 26, but has since been extended to Feb 4.
The circular also outlined the dos and don’ts by judges and court staff.
FMT also learnt that the lower and High Court registries would contact prison authorities nationwide 10 to 14 days before trials and appeals were held to ensure the inmates were free of Covid-19.
A judicial source said strict guidelines have already been put in place to protect prisoners and witnesses when they are in court.
However, the fear of them contracting the virus is real when they are kept in transit prisons or police lock-ups with trials spanning a few days, the source said.