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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Press Statemen by R Sivarasa

Pakatan Selangor’s support for Suhaimi is principled and correct
8th February 2011

Comments made by Kedah Gerakan Youth Chief Tan Keng Liang and so-called “Gaps” Chairperson Hamidzun Khairuddin (see Malaysiakini 7.2.11) objecting to the PR Selangor government commitment to pay lawyers to defend PKR Seri Muda ADUN Suhaimi Shafiei in his sedition prosecution only show their lack of understanding on the duty of the state to ensure access to justice.

The most obvious reason for the Selangor government to give him financial support is the fact Suhaimi, a PR member of the Selangor State Assembly, is now facing a politically motivated prosecution under a draconian law initiated in colonial times to stifle free speech. On that score alone, PR Selangor, as a government advocating for a full democracy,would be duty bound to support his defence.

In the same way, there could be no objection whatsoever to PR Selangor giving similar support if some of the persons arrested during the Selangor organised gathering to hand over a memorandum rakyat to the Agung on the water standoff in Selangor were prosecuted for unlawful assemblyunder the Police Act, another BN draconian creation.

Likewise, if PR lawmakers in Selangor were suddenly arrested under the ISA (another draconian colonial creation) by the Federal Home Minister, there could be no objection whatsoever if PR Selangor weighed in with legal support for habeas corpus applications to secure their release. These are some examples to make the point

Simply put, the PR Selangor government is correct in principle to put its money where its mouth is and in principled opposition to politically motivated criminal prosecutions using oppressive laws.

The ignorant objectors we are hearing should appreciate that a civilised society goes even much further. Developed democracies all over the world put billions of dollars to fund legal aid systems and lawyers to defend their ordinary citizens facing criminal prosecutions for all sorts of ordinary criminal offences. This is to ensure a fundamental canon of justice – that access to justice is not denied because of a lack of means. Whenever matters of public interest are raised in court, these are also relevant considerations for the state to consider legal aid.

It is high time that the BN Federal government realised that the 25 million ringgit currently used annually to fund our existing pitiful legal aid system needs to be expanded many times over. We should be spending much more per capita to fund a truly effective legal aid system particularly for persons arrested and remanded in police lockups.

Countries like Australia, United Kingdom and Canada spend billions to deliver effective legal aid systems. Even after adjusting for the size of our GNP, our legal aid expenditure looks completely miserly and only serves to confirm our antipathy to a basic principle of justice. We should be spending hundreds on millions to ensure our citizens are ensure legal representation particularly for criminal prosecutions instead of spending billions buying military hardware of limited utility. It makes a mockery of the slogan ”Rakyat didahulukan”!

Whilst it is certainly not a responsibility of the state government under the Federal Constitution to provide full fledged legal aid systems which is afederal responsibility, it is my view that PR Selangor should consider initiating limited pilot public legal aid projects ( bearing in mind its limited resources ) to demonstrate PR’s commitment to full-fledged legal aid systems under a future PR Federal government. Access to justice must always remain a cornerstone of any equitable and fair legal system.

Sivarasa Rasiah,

Member of Parliament for Subang

Member of Political Bureau

Parti Keadilan Rakyat

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