Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Vague even when clear

Brave New World (The Star)
29 May 2013

Vagueness and clarity can both lead to befuddlement and irritation, but at the end of the day, good sense, justice and fairness must prevail.


THE law is a funny old thing. Sometimes it is too vague and this can lead to injustice.
Yet, even when it is clear, there can also be injustice.
I realise this sounds like the ramblings of a senile old man, but it is not.
Please let me explain.
It is only recently that I learnt of this provision in the Penal Code; specifically Section 124B which states that if one were to commit “an activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy”, then one is liable to face imprisonment of up to 20 years.
Furthermore, you don’t have to actually commit the offence, you can also attempt to commit the offence and that could mean a spell in the clinker for up to 15 years.
And if you have anything to do with the publication of material that is “detrimental to parliamentary de­­m­­o­cracy”, even mere possession, that, too, can lead to a lengthy stay in the Kajang Bed and Breakfast.
The thing is I am not certain what “detrimental to parliamentary de­­mocracy means”.
Perusing the Penal Code does not provide any clues, so I am left in my usual state of confusion and befuddlement.
For example, what if there is an elected parliament, but the method with which it was elected is contentious.
In this scenario, would my questioning of the legitimacy of parliament be deemed an act “detrimental to parliamentary democracy”?
Surely not, for just because there are elections and as a result there is a parliament, this does not mean that there is a “parliamentary de­mo­cracy”.
This is because the term “democracy” has many implications.
There is an implication that the elections were free and fair; there is an implication that there was sufficient freedom of information so that the people could make a reasoned decision; and so on and so forth.
Therefore, whether a person is charged by this law or prosecuted and convicted by this law will be dependent on the understanding of the charger, prosecutor and the judge as to what “parliamentary de­m­o­cracy” truly means.
This is a rather unnerving situation which is the result of a rather vague law.
But like I said at the beginning of this article, even clear laws can be unjust.
This happens when a good law is flaunted.
Then not only is there an injustice, but it becomes clear for all to see.
In the case of my beloved Bukit Gambier on Penang island, now sad­ly looking like Bruce Willis minus the irritating smirk, it is all too clear.
Someone (at the time of writing that “someone” is yet to be exposed) has decided to build luxury homes on the hill.
Of course it is “luxury homes” because only the luxury class of people like to have their houses located up high so that they can look down on the rest of us.
What is immensely irritating here is that the land clearance has taken place at 500ft (152.4m) above sea level, although the Penang state government has clearly set the maximum limit of such developments at 250ft (76.2m).
How on earth could this have happened when the policy is so clear and when any planning permission must surely precede it?
Were the people responsible nu­m­e­rically dyslexic?
Whatever the reasons, the culprits have to be exposed (just like poor Bukit Gambier is now exposed) and the law must be enforced, otherwise all that clarity will be for naught.
So there you have it, the oddness of the law – where vagueness and clarity can both lead to befuddlement and irritation.
One can only hope that at the end of the day, good sense, justice and fairness will prevail.

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