Malaysia agrees to abolish mandatory death penalty

Dr Wan Junaidi said the government's decision showed its priority was to "protect and guarantee the rights of all parties. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AFP) - The Malaysian government has agreed to abolish the mandatory death penalty, with a substitute sentence to be imposed at the discretion of the courts.

The Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Parliament and Law), Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, said the decision was reached following the presentation of the Report on the Study of Substitute Sentences on Mandatory Death Penalty by him at the Cabinet Meeting on Wednesday (June 8).

"The government has also accepted in principle and taken note of the recommendations of the Special Committee on Substitute Sentences on the Mandatory Death Penalty explained in the report.

"The special committee is headed by former chief justice Tun Richard Malanjum and is comprised of experts in the field of law such as the former chief justice of Malaya, former solicitor general, legal practitioners, law lecturers from leading institutions, and criminologists," he said in a statement on Friday (June 10).

Dr Wan Junaidi confirmed that the Cabinet has agreed for further scrutiny and study to be carried out on the proposed substitute sentences for 11 offences carrying the mandatory death penalty, one offence under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 (Act 234) and 22 offences carrying the death penalty at the discretion of the court.

"A further study will be carried out in collaboration with the Attorney General's Chambers, the Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister's Department and other interested ministries or departments.

"This action is very significant to ensure that the amendments to the relevant Acts take into account the principles of 'proportionality' and the constitutionality of any proposal to the government later.

"The government will also study the feasibility of the direction of the criminal justice system in the country, such as establishing a pre-sentencing procedure, setting up a Sentencing Council, developing Sentencing Guidelines, establishing a Law Commission, prison reform, and imposing sentences based on restorative justice," he said.

Speaking to reporters at a separate event, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that the death penalty will remain and not be abolished. The major change is that when sentencing a criminal, the death penalty would not be mandatory any more in the future.

"We have to understand that the death penalty is not abolished and will remain, it's just that it will no longer be mandatory," Datuk Seri Ismail said, after officiating an event in Selangor.

He said with the decision, the "mandatory" part will be removed and judges will no longer be bound by that word, which left them with no choice but to impose the death penalty on criminal offenders as provided by law, such as in drug trafficking cases.

Dr Wan Junaidi said the government's decision showed its priority was to "protect and guarantee the rights of all parties, which reflected transparency in leadership (towards) improving the country's dynamic criminal justice system."

He added that the government also expressed its appreciation for the special committee's commitment in producing the report, which was the basis for systematic and effective change in the criminal justice system.

“Malaysia’s public pronouncement that it will do away with the mandatory death penalty is an important step forward,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told AFP.

“But before everyone starts cheering, we need to see Malaysia pass the actual legislative amendments to put this pledge into effect.” He added there had been a trend of successive Malaysian governments “promising much on human rights but ultimately delivering very little”.

Opposition lawmaker Ramkarpal Singh – whose party was in power un 2018 when the government first proposed abolishing the death penalty – indicated he was supportive of the move.

“We always advocated for the abolishment of the mandatory death penalty,” he told AFP.

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