Why infesting prison cells with vermin is clearly illegal and unconstitutional — Young Professionals


Source: The Malay Mail Online

In a report on Thursday, national news agency Bernama cited Mohd Noor calling for a revamp of the prisons to make jail cells uncomfortable places that its inmates would hate so much that they would repent and steer clear of crime forever. — TODAY file picture

In a report on Thursday, national news agency Bernama cited Mohd Noor calling for a revamp of the prisons to make jail cells uncomfortable places that its inmates would hate so much that they would repent and steer clear of crime forever. — TODAY file picture

SEPTEMBER 4 — The Young Professionals (YP) express their disgust with the suggestion by the former Court of Appeal judge, Datuk Mohd Noor Abdullah, supported by Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, that prisons be infested with all manner of disease-bearing vermin such as mosquitoes, rats and cockroaches in order to more effectively deter crime.

While YP does agree that general conditions at prisons, lock-ups and other detention centres must not be rendered alluring or inviting in any way given their purpose and use as places for reflection, reform and rehabilitation of inmates, such places must nonetheless be maintained in accordance with applicable international standards, and the suggestion of the former judge and deputy minister that they deliberately be made unbearable for inmates is simply appalling to say the least.

Such a move, other than inhumane for obvious reasons, are clearly illegal under the law, not least the Prison Regulations 2000 made under the Prison Act 1995, Regulation 59, which requires that prisons be kept clean, and Regulation 55 requiring prisoners be treated with kindness and humanity. Regulation 20 of the 2000 Regulations even provide for any prisoner found to have any infectious or contagious disease or infested with vermin to be reported to a medical officer who shall take steps to treat the said prisoner as well as take preventive measures to contain any spread thereof to other inmates.

There is also section 270 of the Penal Code which imposes a jail term of up to two year and fine for those who deliberately spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life and section 278 of the same Code which imposes a fine of up to one thousand ringgit for anyone who pollute the atmosphere in any given place so as to make it noxious to persons in the surrounding vicinity. Any person who does what is advocated by the former judge and deputy minister above would certainly be guilty of committing these crimes.

Implementation of the suggestion would also amount to a contravention of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988, which, as its name suggests, is meant to prevent the spread of diseases and control them when they occur. Under section 10 of the Act, every occupant of a building infested with or anyone who keeps company with a person suspected of having contracted an infectious disease is required to be reported to the relevant authorities, failing which an offence is committed. There is also section 13 of the Act which criminalises the distribution of any infected or contaminated rodent the breach of which is punishable by up to two years jail and a fine.

The proposed measure is also quite plainly against internationally recognised human rights standards. Article 5 of the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 14 December 1990, provides that, save for those limitations that are demonstrably necessitated by the fact of incarceration, all prisoners shall retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). These include the right to be treated with dignity (Article 1), the right to life (Article 3), the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 5) and recognition of them as persons before the law (Article 6).

The principles contained within UDHR are made applicable within Malaysia by a judicial precedent, namely the case of Suzana Mat Aris v DSP Ishak Hussain and Others [2011] 1 MLJ 107, a case which, incidentally, concerns standards to be applied in the treatment of prisoners in Malaysia. In that case it was held that the deprivation of prompt medical treatment for an inmate was to subject the person to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by default, and was in breach of the protections afforded by the UDHR. If even the omission to provide a detained inmate with medical attention quickly enough is sufficient to constitute such treatment, imagine if this suggestion of the ex-judge and deputy minister were to be implemented, which would assuredly result in an outbreak of similar cases such as this one.

Lastly there is also our own constitutional protection against violations of human rights. Article 5(1) states that no person can be deprived of his life save in accordance with law, and the right to life is wide and all-embracing, including livelihood and quality of life, as stated in the precedents of Tan Tek Seng v Educational Services Commission and Another [1996] 1 MLJ 261 and Lee Kwan Woh v Public Prosecutor [2009] 5 MLJ 301. There is also Article 7(2) which prohibits the imposition of double jeopardy, namely the punishment of any person for a convicted offence more than once. Any move to implement the suggestion of the former judge and deputy minister, thus, would be against all the above stated human rights protections afforded to prisoners and thus, unconstitutional.

YP fervently hopes that the above enumeration of the law as well as human rights principles and constitutional provisions applicable will contribute towards the former judge and deputy minister reconsidering their dreadful suggestion, and apologise in respect thereof, as well as deter those who think in similar terms.

*Young Professionals (YP) is a group of Malaysian professionals from across the social strata and political spectrum who believe in the supremacy of the Federal Constitution and social contract.


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