By Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, Alliance For Safe Community Chairman
KOTA KINABALU: The concerns expressed by some quarters over the proposed hefty fines for offences under the proposed amendments to the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 is understandable given the current economic situation and the financial hardship facing the people due the pandemic
If one does not intend to commit any offence under this Act, any provision should not be a matter of concern.
What should be of concern is whether or not such provisions will be arbitrarily imposed. In such cases, the revised legislation should include clauses to mandate punishments according to the severity of the offences.
For instance, first-time offenders should face fines not exceeding a certain sum while repeat offenders should face the maximum penalty.
Harsher punishments are in the statute books for some other crimes
But that is all a moot point, now that the Health Ministry has agreed to reduce the proposed maximum fines from RM 1 million to RM500,00 with other concomitant penalties.
It is very seldom that we see law enforcers imposing the maximum punishment for any crime unless it is patently justified.
If an offender is repentant, then the punishment must be commensurate.
Judges must be given the discretion not to impose any fine or jail sentence for cases of unintended neglect or commission.
They must be allowed to temper justice with mercy.
We can take a lesson from a US Municipal judge, Frank Caprio who is an Internet sensation, well-known for his compassionate verdicts.
We are not expecting our law enforcers to emulate him, but as long as they are consistent and impose punishments that befit the crime, then justice will be served, whatever the statute books say.
We do not have to worry about whether or not the law provides for a hefty fine or other severe punishment. We can safely leave it in the hands of the courts and law enforcers to see that the punishment fits the crime.
We must always bear in mind the reason for the existence of laws. They are to ensure compliance, to punish the offender, to pass a message to others not to commit similar offences, and to show that it doesn’t pay to do so. Justice must not only be done but seen to be done.