REFORMS FOR THE COMING YEAR
Legal reforms are undeniably important to a nation’s ever-changing political and socioeconomic scene. Despite ongoing efforts, much needs to be expedited. Below is an overview of pressing reforms that need the attention of our lawmakers.
1. Formation of a Law Reform Commission
Earlier this year, a Law Reform Commission responsible for amending, repealing, and replacing existing legislation found to be obsolete and archaic was set to be formed. Such commissions are not uncommon especially within Commonwealth countries. They act as independent bodies that review and propose changes to the law in order to constitute simpler and more equitable legislation. An example being Australia’s Law Reform Commission which conducts reviews into Australian laws and aids the government in making informed decisions pertaining law reform. Even as the administration conducts consultations with the Bar Council and other stakeholders, little word has been heard on its progress, yet its importance is imminent.
2. Reforms Pertaining Law Enforcement and the Criminal Justice System
The Independent Police Complaints of Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) bill remains one of the most anticipated bills to be passed by Parliament in light of the growing number of police misconduct allegations, claims of police brutality and deaths in custody. The Banting case this Deepavali has only fueled the need for this reform. The IPCC bill which is to be tabled in its place seems to lack the necessary bite and concerns the public as it may not provide the needed enforcement against abuse of power.
The government must also reform our prison systems and detention centers. A survey conducted by HAKAM, highlighted that 10% of 369 detainees claimed to have witnessed, heard, or suffered violence. Additionally, the rapid spread of COVID-19 amongst inmates, which further increased the risk of transmission to local communities, was a foreseeable condition. Prisons designed to house 52,000 inmates are currently housing 68,730 inmates instead. The stretched capacity means prisoners live in inadequate and oftentimes, inhumane conditions.
It is likely that alternative forms of punishment such as community service, house arrest and other rehabilitative forms of sentencing should be studied and adopted where necessary to revamp the criminal justice system. As most offenders are in prison for drug related offences, the country’s strict drug laws should also be reviewed to better combat drug and substance abuse.
3. Women’s Rights
With the horrible impacts of sexual harassment on women (and men alike) the Sexual Harassment Bill which was tabled last year will mark an important milestone in the nations’ progressive reforms to improve women’s rights, if it is passed. Under the Act, a Sexual Harassment Tribunal will allow victims redress without having to go through lengthy processes. Besides, the Act will extend protection from sexual harassment in the workplaces to other places, such as public places, offices, public transportation, and even to schools and universities.
It is also high time Malaysia enacts anti-stalking laws, seeing that stalking is currently not a crime in Malaysia. A study by the University of Toronto found that stalking may lead to depression, anxiety, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Stalking has also been shown to pave the way for more severe forms of violence. Comprehensive anti-stalking laws should include protection against offline and online stalking and harassment, besides allowing protection orders for survivors.
4. Reforms under political interests
In 2019, Parliament passed the Constitutional Amendment Bill that reduced the age of voting for national and state level elections to 18 years, a historical move in upholding democratic principles. Nevertheless, Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department has stated that the implementation of the new voting age is expected to commence only by July 2021.
Although about 7.8 million voters are expected to be added to the electoral roll by 2023 because of automatic voter registration under the bill, Malaysians under 21 will not be able to vote if a snap election is called. The Election Commission has said that those 18 won't be able to register manually either as their registration is tied to automatic voter registration, which is still under progress.
Another issue warranting concern is a lack of regulation surrounding ‘party-hopping’. While Article 10(1)(c) of the Federal Constitution states that all citizens have the right to associate, it must be read together with Article 10 (2)(c) which provides that Parliament may impose restrictions on the right through laws if Parliament deems such restrictions to be necessary. As party defections have happened time and time again, it is paramount that the government look into anti-party hopping laws to prevent financial wastage from holding by-elections and most importantly, to preserve democratic integrity and protect the people’s mandate.
5. Reforms for Labour and Employment Rights
During the lockdown in Malaysia, migrant workers worked alongside frontliners and have also contributed significantly to keeping the economy afloat. Though subject to constant exploitation and discrimination, the pandemic further amplified the struggles they face. The emergence of Covid-19 clusters in hostels housing migrant workers served to call attention to their below standard living spaces even with the enactment of the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities (Amendment) Act 2019. It is important to note that this only one in the long line of issues migrant workers face. As the migrant population battles the risk of losing their livelihoods if companies shut down and descale their operations, whilst having to fight through the struggles of the day, it is time the government review its labour laws to better safeguard the interests of these vulnerable groups.
The final issue we wish to underline is the lack of proper remuneration for pupils undergoing pupilage. Under the Employment Act 1955, pupils are not considered as employees. The Legal Profession Act 1976 also states that Masters are not required to provide remuneration for pupils. With the rising challenges faced by young lawyers and the possibility of exploitation, especially in this pandemic era, pressure on the Bar Council to set a minimum pay/remuneration scheme is extremely necessary to protect pupils.
While the listed reforms above are not exhaustive, it is our hope that some of Malaysia’s pressing concerns have been highlighted, albeit briefly. May the coming year be one that is more progressive and one that sees our lawmakers expediting reforms in the interests of the Rakyat.