Prevention of Crime Act: Balancing act between public safety and civil liberties

The Prevention of Crime Act (POCA) in Malaysia is aimed at preventing and combating organised crime and terrorism by providing the police with enhanced powers and authority to apprehend, detain, and restrict the movements of individuals suspected of criminal activities.

However, in April 2022, the Federal Court declared as void an ouster clause in POCA that restricts judges from inquiring into the grounds for detention. Thus, Sections 4 and 15B of the Act were deemed unconstitutional by the Federal Court, for violating the doctrine of separation of powers as stipulated under the Federal Constitution.

Recently, since the ruling of the Federal Court, some top police officials and interest groups have indicated that there is a need for POCA to be reinstated after relevant amendments are made in Parliament.

Nevertheless, the necessity of such a controversial preventive law is a subject of legitimate concern and debate in our democratic society.

Several questions must be asked in addressing and assessing both the strengths and weaknesses of POCA.

  1. Is POCA still needed by the Royal Malaysia Police, especially with advancements in scientific evidence gathering and investigation techniques, and with contemporary knowledge in technology and forensic science?
  2. To what extent is POCA considered a deterrent since the punishment is considered non-severe (short detention period and/or restricted residence) and;
  3. To what extent can POCA be effective in minimising and controlling organised crime activities such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, illegal online gambling, scams, and the smuggling of cigarettes and alcohol?

Most importantly, proponents argue that POCA is necessary to provide the additional tools and authority to fight organised crime and terrorism effectively.

POCA allows the police to proactively investigate and apprehend individuals involved in criminal activities, and prevents them from carrying out their illegal strategies. This proactive move is supposed to eliminate any potential threat and harm to public safety and security.

In addition, supporters of POCA contend that its existence acts as a deterrent, dissuading individuals from engaging in criminal activities due to the risk of being detained or having their movements restricted. It sends a resounding message that Malaysia is non-tolerant and serious about combating organised crime and terrorism.

Moreover, POCA is seen as a necessary preventive law in ensuring public safety and security. By giving police the power and authority to pre-emptively detain and restrict individuals with suspected criminal intentions, the potential harm to innocent citizens is significantly minimised and controlled. This means the police can take action before a crime occurs or is implemented.

However, critics argue that POCA sacrifices individual liberties and due process rights. The law allows for detention without trial, which can lead to potential abuse and arbitrary arrests by the police. This raises concerns about human rights violations and the possibility of innocent individuals being wrongly targeted. Champions of human rights and experts on crime and policing have raised such issues over the years and they lack confidence that POCA will not be abused.

Furthermore, some question the effectiveness of preventive laws like POCA, arguing that they may not be the most efficient approach to combating organised crime and terrorism. These critics argue that more resources should be directed towards intelligence and evidence gathering, utilisation of advanced knowledge in technology and forensic science, community engagement, and rehabilitation and treatment efforts.

Additionally, ensuring adequate checks and balances, transparency, and accountability within the system is crucial to prevent potential misuse of power and general misconduct.

The necessity of POCA in Malaysia Madani depends on one’s perspective. While some consider it a crucial tool in combating organised crime and terrorism, others question its efficacy, potential for abuse, and infringement on individual rights and liberty.

Striking a balance between public safety and civil liberties is essential when evaluating the necessity of such preventive laws.

The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the writer and do not necessarily represent that of Twentytwo13.

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