Call to reform criminal justice system to address ‘unbalanced’ sentencing

PETALING JAYA: The country's criminal justice system is in need of reform, particularly to address the issue of "unbalanced sentencing".

Among others, legal experts have proposed the drawing up of guidelines and the setting up of a sentencing council to avoid having jarring discrepancies in sentences meted out by judges and magistrates which have on occasion led to public outcries.

Jarring discrepancies in recent cases include that of:
> a police inspector who was jailed three years and 10 months and fined RM80,000 for corruption involving RM16,000, while a former politician was only sentenced to a year's jail for corruption involving to RM3 million; and
> a woman being sentenced to a day's jail and fined RM200 for stealing a packet of Milo from a supermarket in Kuala Lumpur, while a jobless man was sentenced to two years' jail and fined RM5,000 for stealing RM2 from a mosque's fund in Kelantan.

Former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Mohd Hishamudin Mohd Yunus was of the view that although it is impossible for sentencing to be uniform for every case as it is a matter of discretion of individual judges and the facts of the cases, such huge discrepancies should not have happened.

He suggested that for starters such discrepancies can be reduced if it is made mandatory for every person charged in court to be represented by a lawyer, whether engaged by him or provided by legal aid.

"The system should be that no person should be sentenced without him being represented by a lawyer. The court must be sure that when a person has gone to plead in mitigation, he is represented, and that sentencing shouldn't be done otherwise," he told theSun.

Bar Council Human Rights Committee co-chairman Andrew Khoo said the judiciary should develop a sentencing guideline that would try and reduce sentencing disparities when it comes to offences of a similar nature.

"It can basically be a guide to the judge in question. The kind of sentence that should be given in a particular case, together with consideration whether it should be increased or decreased," he said.

He added that the Bar Council had put the suggestion before the government but had not received any constructive response from it yet.

Meanwhile, Bar Council National Legal Aid Committee co-chairman Ravindran Nekoo suggested Malaysia should emulate the United Kingdom and Australia and have a sentencing council to promote greater consistency in sentencing, whilst maintaining the independence of the judiciary.

"This sentencing council comprises members of diverse backgrounds appointed by the attorney-general, retired judges, law enforcement officers, defence lawyers, indigenous community members and persons associated with victims of crime," he said.

The functions of the council would mainly be to monitor and provide advice on sentencing in relation to offences suitable for standard non-parole periods and their proposed length as well as monitoring sentencing trends and drawing up guidelines to help judges and magistrates.