The Malaysian Bar wholeheartedly welcomes the announcement of Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law), YB Dato Sri Dr Haji Wan Junaidi b Tuanku Jaafar that the Malaysian Cabinet has agreed to replace the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia with respect to 11 offences carrying such sentences, with alternative sentences.1 This will essentially give judges discretion in sentencing, correctly so, as sentencing powers should always remain within the unfettered domain of the Judiciary.
We certainly look forward to the conclusion of a study to be carried out on the proposed substitute sentences for 11 offences carrying the mandatory death penalty, and seeing relevant legislative reforms being tabled and passed by both Houses of Parliament in the Parliamentary session that begins on 18 July 2022. However, we note that there has been no announcement of any timeline, or any release of draft legislation to this effect. The Malaysian Bar therefore calls upon the Government to introduce the amending legislation without further delay. Any further delay will mean more people being sentenced to die.
It should also be highlighted that while this announcement is a significant step forward for the country, it still falls short of an earlier pledge to abolish capital punishment entirely in Malaysia, which was announced by the then-Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law), the late Datuk Liew Vui Keong, on 10 October 2018.2
The Cabinet decision is clearly a correct one and a step towards the right direction, but more has to be done to ensure total abolition of the death penalty. The death penalty has no place in a society that values human life, justice, and mercy; nor does it assure a civilised and secure society, but diminishes our humanity. In an advanced society, our focus should be on rehabilitation and restoration, and very little is achieved in having the death penalty except to satisfy the need for retribution.
The Malaysian Bar has long advocated and campaigned for the total abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia, and we have, on numerous occasions, passed resolutions to that effect, at our Annual or Extraordinary General Meetings in 1985, 2006, 2012 and 2015, condemning the death penalty and/or calling for its total abolition. We must remember that the burden of imposing a sentence of death is great and leaves no margin for human error.
The Malaysian Bar is steadfast in our view that life is sacred, and every person has an inherent right to life as enshrined in Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, which shuns the arbitrary deprivation of life. The right to life is a fundamental right that must be absolute, inalienable, and universal, irrespective of the crime committed by the accused person. As we progress in our democratic development in our country, we must shift away from killing people in the name of “justice”.
At present, there is a moratorium on the execution of death row inmates. The Malaysian Bar calls upon the Government to work with the Pardons Board to ensure that the more than 1,359 convicted persons currently on death row3 are also spared the death penalty. We advocate that all death sentences be commuted to sentences of imprisonment, proportionate to the gravity of offences committed, and take into consideration the mitigating factors and distinctive circumstances that surround each case. Only then will the punishment meted out be both just and effective.
The Malaysian Bar stands ready at all material times, to provide our assistance and commitment to the Government for the requisite legislative reforms to be made in the short term, as well as to realising the ultimate objective of total abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia as a long-term plan.
Karen Cheah Yee Lynn
10 June 2022
1 “Malaysia government agrees to abolish mandatory death penalty”, Channel News Asia, 10 June 2022.
2 “Death penalty to be abolished”, New Straits Times, 10 October 2018.
3 “Mandatory death penalty to be abolished”, Free Malaysia Today, 10 June 2022.