Mala fide in setting punitive bail?

IN an article titled Bail is not about guilt or innocence, published on July 4, 2016, among other things, P. Sundramoorthy of the Research Team on Crime and Policing at Universiti Sains Malaysia said: "It seems that, per media reports, denying bail or an excessive bail amount has become a way of condemning the behaviour or actions that a person is alleged to have engaged in or is guilty of".

But nothing has changed since. In a recent case a motorist charged for a minor traffic offence pleaded "not guilty" and the judge, exercising his discretion, slapped a cash bail of RM5,000 with one surety, i.e. RM3,000 up and above the maximum penalty for the offence.

To rub salt into the wound, the accused and the bailor were told by the court officer that all the RM5,000 would be forfeited if he failed to turn up for the next mention date.

No reason was given for setting bail 250% higher than the maximum fine for the offence.

In another recent case, that of a driver ramming into four cycling athletes, the bail was RM5,000 in one surety and the offence he is charged with carries a maximum fine of RM15,000.

No doubt judges have the discretion on setting bail, but apparently they are not required to justify setting bail way beyond the maximum penalty for the offence. At the very least, shouldn't they be required to state their reasons so that questions of mala fide do not arise?

It is strange how this has been allowed to happen and go on.

Among other things, the Bar Council has a duty to the general public "to uphold the cause of justice without regard to its own interests or that of its members' uninfluenced by fear or favour" and also "to protect and assist the public in all matters touching ancillary or incidental to the law".

Could the Bar Council which is surely aware of the excessive and punitive bail set in some cases please inform the public whether it has spoken up on the matter and why the practice still goes on.

If the Bar Council has not done anything about this, that would mean it agrees with the practice. In such a case, it should inform the public why it feels that the practice is fair and just.

When judges impose such drastic"punishment" even before hearing the case, it smells of bad faith or "mala fide". It gives a strong impression of bias against the accused, of unhappiness with the accused for pleading "not guilty". Are judges doing this to achieve any KPI's set for them?

For justice not only to be done but also to be seen to be done, would it be right for the judge who has pre-judged the accused by imposing punitive bail, to hear the case at a later date since he has shown some negative notion of the accused at the very beginning?

Ravinder Singh
Penang