Gani and Chris together taken at the opening of the legal year
KUALA LUMPUR: Criminal appeals have gone up by over 300% since 2010 because of judicial reform but there are only 25 deputy public prosecutors (DPPs) to handle the increased caseload.
Attorney General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail had revealed the startling number of DPPs in the Chamber’s Appellate and Trial Division during his speech at the Opening of the Legal Year in Putrajaya.
He said 861 appeals had been filed at the Court of Appeal (COA) and Federal Court in 2010.
Judicial efforts to tackle the backlog of criminal cases kept the number of appeals rising in subsequent years: 2,481 in 2011; 2,716 in 2012; and 2,833 in 2013.
Assuming one case per DPP, a DPP who averaged 34 appeals in 2010 would be juggling 113 cases last year.
While there has been increase of judges in the High Court and appellate courts, Abdul Gani said there had not been a comparable increase in the number of DPPs handling these appeals.
“It would be useful if the AGC was made aware of court expansion plans to enable the necessary manpower adjustments to be made in advance.”
Malaysian Bar president Christopher Leong agreed: “A-G needs time to train DPPs sufficiently to meet projected workloads.”
“He can’t pull DPPs out of a hat!” said Leong in an interview.
“In the meantime, consideration should be given to the constraints on manpower when fixing appeals.”
Leong said the objective of clearing the backlog, particularly of criminal matters, was a welcome one because people should not be languishing in remand awaiting trial.
“Justice is best served when the administration of justice is efficient in fixing cases/appeals for hearing, where judges have sufficient time to look at the cases, the public prosecutor performing a public interest function has sufficient time to prepare the case and lawyers are afforded sufficient and reasonable time to prepare the defence.
“The latter three would be difficult to achieve if the volume of work that is placed on each of them creates a constraint on their time and resources.”
Leong said that any initiative to improve the system should involve all the stakeholders so that practical issues could be addressed.
He cited the time when the judiciary wanted to address the backlog of criminal cases in Penang by increasing the number of courts handling criminal matters a few years back.
“It was not the right solution for Penang because the number of lawyers practising at the criminal Bar there was a relatively small number.
“It would not have resulted in a faster disposal or disposal of more criminal cases because of insufficient lawyers.”
Unlike other civil servants, DPPs are employed by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission.
In his speech at the opening on Jan 11, Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria said the judiciary’s commitment to uphold the rule of law and to dispense justice without fear or favour, would be meaningless if there was excessive delay in the justice delivery system.
Congratulating the president and judges of the COA which has at least two or three panels sitting at a time to deal with the bottleneck, Arifin had added that their aim in 2014 was to reduce the waiting period for capital cases to less than 18 months and for those involving government servants to less than a year.