Corrected at 3.40pm on 11 Dec 2009
THE Malaysian Bar is disappointed with the Court of Appeal‘s ruling on 17 Dec 2009 that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) can question witnesses beyond office hours. The decision, which overturns the High Court‘s earlier ruling, is inimical to the protection of witnesses, who have the right to refuse to be interrogated outside of office hours.
The relevant legislation should be interpreted in accordance with the Federal Constitution’s provisions that protect an individual’s fundamental liberty. It should also be interpreted in a manner that safeguards human rights and improves the practices of the law enforcement agencies.
We reiterate our position that the High Court’s decision does not preclude witnesses from being interrogated outside of office hours if the witnesses agree to do so, and attend the interview with their legal counsel. The Court of Appeal’s decision, however, condones the MACC’s (corrected) practice of compelling witnesses to appear and be questioned, including for long periods of time that stretch beyond office hours, with no option for them to decline.
Witnesses who aid law enforcement agencies in investigations should surely, at a minimum, be accorded the same protection and rights as accused persons, whose right to be allowed adequate rest is guaranteed by Rule 20 of the Lockup Rules 1953. Witnesses would then be encouraged to be forthcoming in assisting with investigations, as they would have no reason to fear the interrogation process or dread being unduly detained for long and unreasonable hours.
It is essential that witnesses, whose testimonies are important in court hearings, not face any actual or perceived intimidation, pressure or coercion during the interrogation process.
We urge the government to take immediate steps to protect the rights of witnesses and to promote transparent and accountable investigations, which, in the long run, will enhance the law enforcement agencies’ credibility.