‘Switch to Law Reform Commission’

KUALA LUMPUR: The Law Reform Committee should be upgraded into a commission to give the body more “bite” to perform more effectively, especially in reviewing legislation that are deemed outdated and archaic without political interference, a constitutional expert said.

Professor Datuk Dr Shamrahayu Ab Aziz said since a commission is established through an act enacted in Parliament, the body can work independently with no or minimum control from the government of the day.

The incumbent of the Institution of Malay Rulers Chair at Universiti Teknologi MARA said unlike a committee, a commission would continue its tasks, responsibilities and duties even if there is a change in government.

She said this would ensure the agenda to reform the legal system would not be affected by any change in government.

“The effectiveness of a committee in executing its duties can depend on the administration or the political parties that are in the government at the time.

“In contrast, a commission is more independent, with a wider scope of function.

“Since membership of a commission is determined by law, they can work effectively with perhaps minimum control (from the government of the day).”

On Monday, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, special adviser to the prime minister on law and human rights, urged the government to set up a Law Reform Commission to study and review 147 laws that were deemed archaic.

The Pengerang member of Parliament said it was important for the commission to be an independent body and not under the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

She proposed for the commission to be led by prominent members of the judiciary, Bar Council and academicians.

Shamrahayu said a Law Reform Committee was set up in 2009, but no significant changes were introduced by the committee.

She welcomed the recent announcement by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob that the Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister’s Department had been instructed to review laws deemed archaic.

“There is a need to improve and strengthen existing laws following socio-cultural changes and economic and technological advancements.”

At Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Law’s Golden Jubilee Celebration on Friday, Ismail Sabri had said the review aimed to establish whether to amend or abolish the archaic laws.

Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee co-chair Andrew Khoo said the government needed to look into 10 areas of the law.

They include citizenship and birth registration, national security and broadcasting, multimedia, censorship and licensing.

Other areas that need review are rights to information and assembly, as well as equality.

“We need laws that support and empower human rights,” Khoo said.

He said other areas of law that needed to be strengthened were anti-corruption, whistleblower protection and witness protection and legislation on voting and constituency delineation.

Prominent lawyer Nizam Bashir said at least four pre-independence legislation needed to be reviewed.

He cited auction laws and rules that were presently contained in disparate state legislation despite the fact that laws on auctions and auctioneers are under List 1, item 8(h) of the Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution.

He said the Sedition Act 1948 (Revised 1969) also needed to be reviewed.

“Various judgments affirm that this act is constitutional, but the law itself is archaic and should be abolished.

“The United Kingdom repealed the Sedition Act 1967 in 2009 and clarified that sedition did not exist in common law.”

He pointed out the weaknesses of the Oaths and Affirmations Act 1949 (Revised 1977), saying it did not appear to expressively cover other forms of evidence giving.

He said there was also the question of whether the act should be extended to regulate oaths taken by the commissioner of oaths.

“Presently, Section 4 (of the act) limits it only to oath giving by witnesses and oath taking by interpreters, translators and jurors.”

Nizam said the Commissioner of Oaths Rules 2018, which was issued under the Courts of Judicature Act 1964, did not regulate the various issues related to oaths.

He named two pre-independence legislation that needed to be reviewed — the Election Offences Act 1954 and the Arms Act 1960.

“Section 19(1) specifies the maximum sum, which seems a little low given the prevailing prices.”

He said as for the Arms Act 1960, it did not appear to regulate the provision or distribution of 3D schematics for firearms.

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