.The Attorney-General's Chambers is facing an acute shortage of manpower. Despite that, Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail and his men soldiered on to deliver justice as fairly and swiftly as possible. In an interview with CHELSEA L.Y. NG the Public Prosecutor discussed the rough rides they went through and the ideal situation for them to work efficiently
TAN Sri Abdul Gani Patail did not have enough legal officers, and was aware that they had a very heavy workload.
But he had to push them to the limit, as there was no other way.
Things came to a head last month when about 50 people were freed from preventive detention on technical grounds after they successfully filed for writs of habeas corpus.
Fingers were pointed at the shortage of senior federal counsel (SFC) attached to the Internal Affairs Ministry for the outcome of the cases.
However, there were only five such officers in the ministry while the workload demanded the attention of 20 people.
“The five SFCs have to run all over the country to attend to the cases, with each case requiring about 15 affidavits-in-reply to be prepared by the officer,” said Gani.
He said that since the detainees were arguing that their detention was unlawful, it meant that the A-G's Chambers had to handle the cases fast.
“There cannot be any delay or else it would defeat the purpose of filing for the writ. It is wrong for our side to delay because justice must be done,” he said.
However, he said that pushing an officer to his limit would not improve the situation but would instead mean sacrificing the quality of work.
This was obvious when the ministry blamed carelessness and technical flaws in the hurriedly prepared affidavits-in- reply for the habeas corpus cases.
Luckily, the ministry acted fast after the problem was highlighted in the media.
It asked the Public Services Department (PSD) to increase the manpower by four times.
In this way they could have enough officers to prepare the affidavits immediately and not years later when the detainees filed the court actions.
Almost overnight, the PSD approved the application and by next month there should be 20 SFCs.
The A-G could now heave a small sigh of relief.
“I am glad that the ministry has taken the step. Once the posts are there, I will be able to recruit people,” Gani said, adding that he could even get workers on short notice by offering jobs on contract basis.
The staff shortage covered a bigger area, including other divisions in the A-G's Chambers, but Gani was confident that more posts would be created for them as well.
The more prominent divisions in the Chambers include prosecution, civil, law and reform, drafting and international law.
In fact, he said the PSD had begun revising the number of posts required by his Chambers to accommodate for needs up to 2010.
Currently, the top prosecutor had even taken charge of prosecution in the lower courts with a view to assigning his deputy public prosecutors (DPPs) to conduct every criminal case in the very near future.
“You will be seeing DPPs prosecuting every case in court very soon.
“At the moment, we make do with police prosecuting officers reporting to one DPP in charge in every state. It is a heavy burden but we have to do it in the interest of justice,” he said.
He was also considering increasing the intake of assistant public prosecutors (APPs) to manage criminal cases in the magistrate's courts.
APPs are officers with diploma qualification. They were introduced a few years ago to help out in smaller districts or less complicated cases.
On another matter, Gani was not in favour of creating a quota system for his officers.
“For example, it is hard to assign, say, five cases to one DPP in a month and be fair. This is because if it is an appeal on sentence, it is a five-minute job; if it is a trial or a serious appeal, then it will be a different ball game altogether,” he said.
Gani believed that an ideal environment for his officers to work in would be when they were given the chance to do their work thoroughly.
“They must be given adequate time to do research, reflect on it and come out with a good opinion.”
In addition to that, he said, time off should also be given to them to pursue advanced degrees or attend courses because of the dynamism of the field they were in.
Gani stressed that as the laws grew, the officers too had to adapt to the more advanced and globalised environment.
He, however, disagreed that the shortage of staff could be due to the low salary offered by the civil service.
“A new officer with a degree earns just above RM2,000 but there are other benefits like car and housing loans.
“I think the Government pay is quite comfortable. We are not exactly the poorest of the poor,” he said.
In fact, he said those who joined this area of service were those who loved law and, as such, monetary benefit did not become an issue.
“Job satisfaction is above everything else to us who love the law. We do not enjoy sending people to the gallows or see victims suffer.
“The most exciting thing about the job is interpreting the law and when we win on points of law,” he said.
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