Judges to have discretion over death penalty, says Liew

(AFP pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Judges will still have the discretion to impose the death penalty under proposed changes in the law to abolish the mandatory death sentence for 11 offences, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Liew Vui Keong said today.

He said the proposed changes sought by the government are meant to give judges wider discretion in deciding whether to impose the death penalty or life imprisonment, or imprisonment for a shorter period, depending on the facts of the case.

Of the 11 offences which currently carry the mandatory death sentence, nine relate to crimes under the Penal Code, while the remaining two comprise offences under the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971.

Twenty-two other offences carry the option of death sentence or life imprisonment with whipping, but in these cases the courts have the discretion to choose which punishment to impose.

In an interview with Bernama, the minister said the term “mandatory” in reference to the 11 offences means that “the courts have no choice but to impose the death sentence”. He added that with the proposed changes, the prosecution would still be entitled to appeal if it felt a certain sentence was not commensurate with the gravity of the offence committed.

The bill containing the proposed changes will be discussed in the October sitting of the Dewan Rakyat.

Liew said the proposal to abolish the mandatory death sentence was not new, nor was it done in haste. He said efforts began as far back as 2010 during the previous administration while in 2013, a research initiative called “The Death Penalty in Malaysia and the Way Forward” had recommended that the mandatory death sentence be abolished.

He said a task force would be established to study the technical aspects relating to the abolition of the mandatory death sentence, apart from looking at sentences that would serve as alternatives to the maximum penalty. He said these would comprise penalties which are in proportion to the crimes committed.

The task force will comprise representatives of government agencies, academia, civil society and other relevant parties.

“The government is ready to listen to voices from all levels of society, including minority groups, to ensure that the new law is more inclusive, holistic and effective,” Liew said, adding that his team would also provide detailed briefings to the general public.