|Anti-death penalty campaigners staging a demonstration in Los Angeles. Even in other countries, people are protesting against the death penalty. AFP pic
New Straits Times
By Datuk Sri Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah
ABOLITION OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: Malaysia should rethink holistically and practically and take the lead and be the proponent in Asean countries to implement this.
THE death penalty is prescribed for several offences, ie murder and waging war against the King (offences under the Penal Code), kidnapping for ransom (an offence under The Kidnapping Act 1960 as opposed to simple kidnapping under the Penal Code), drug trafficking (offences under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 and other related drug statutes), certain scheduled offences for activities in relation to possession of firearms and ammunition or explosives [offences under the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971(FIPA)] and under the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) the latter of which was repealed recently.
Most of the death penalties are mandatory upon finding of guilt. This means the trial judge has no discretion in sentencing to consider a range of possible sentences such as life imprisonment or a prescribed jail sentence which could run up to the maximum sentence, being the death penalty, which of those is most suited to be handed down on a convicted person after considering the myriad circumstances in relation to the commission of the offence and/or the offender.
The Malaysian legislature used to entrust judges with this important discretionary function. For instance, we used to give this sort of discretion to the High Court judges in drug trafficking matters. But a previous attorney-general was frustrated with the fact that judges were opting to sentence certain drug trafficking convicted offenders to life imprisonment rather than mete out the death penalty.
Those judges had good reasons in most cases for opting out of the death penalty. In any case, if the judges were wrong there was always the appellate process which the prosecution could resort to press their point for the capital sentence.
But immaturity and myopic considerations seemed to have prevailed then. We have been stuck with this knee-jerk culture of our legislature, a legislature that is not well advised by the parliamentary draftsman and other relevant authorities. As a result amendments made were jaundiced and lack cohesion with the general scheme of the system.