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Some 800 prisoners facing capital punishment can apply for review after discretion given to courts, says Ramkarpal

Publish date: Fri, 24 Mar 2023, 03:46 PM

KUALA LUMPUR (March 24): As the government will introduce a Bill to Parliament giving courts the discretion on whether to mete out capital punishment or commute offenders to lifetime or natural life prison sentences, some 800 inmates who have finished the judicial process can apply for a review of their death sentence once the Bill is passed.

Malaysia last hanged a prisoner facing the death sentence in 2017.

Presently, according to the Prime Minister’s Department, there are 1,324 inmates facing the death sentence, and out of this number, some 800 have finished the judicial process, while the remaining 400 are still pending in court.

Finishing the judicial process means they have exhausted all their avenues until the Federal Court, where the final appeal is made. Presently, all of them, including those still on trial or yet to exhaust their appeal, are in the moratorium period, as the provisions would be applied retrospectively.

The present government plans to table the Bill on the abolishment of the mandatory death sentence in Parliament next Monday (March 27), where several legislations including the Penal Code, the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act, and the Dangerous Drugs Act could see an amendment.

Presently, 34 offences including murder, drug trafficking, firearms, waging war against the Yang di Pertuan Agong, and terrorism-related offences see the court offenders facing the mandatory death penalty.

In a briefing conducted by Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Ramkarpal Singh to the media earlier this week, the deputy minister said if the Bill is passed, the 800 inmates who have finished the judicial process can file for a review with the Federal Court to review the death sentence.

The briefing was to help clear misconceptions over the proposed Bill to be introduced next week.

Ramkarpal said after the Bill is passed, the inmates can file a review with the apex court within three months.

“From there, the apex court will fix a date after several case managements to hear the review, and then the court may decide on itself on the type of punishment (whether to upheld the death sentence or commute them to prison sentences),” he said.

When asked whether this would result in the apex court to possibly face congestion of having to deal with the impending reviews, the deputy minister replied that the government does not think so, as the court would only hear the mitigating factors to consider sentencing, and not a full trial.

He also said that it is yet to be seen how many of them will file a review of the death sentence.

On Thursday, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said revealed to the Senate that 476 prisoners had yet to complete their appeal process, while 957 could apply for a review. (The figures differed slightly from what Ramkarpal gave.)

Ramkarpal said that with the proposed amendment, the death sentence can still be meted out for offences including murder, waging war against the Yang di Pertuan Agong, and drug trafficking, but it also gives the court discretionary power.

Ramkarpal also revealed the government also plans to do away with natural life imprisonment, where prisoners facing this sentence would be left to prison until their death.

He said part of the proposal gives the court the discretion to impose a natural life sentence, which would be between 30 and 40 years.

Meanwhile, for the life sentence, Ramkarpal said it would be up to a duration of 30 years as proposed.

The deputy minister said that many countries had done away with the mandatory death sentence, as studies had shown that the punishment is not an effective deterrent.

Citing one study, Ramkarpal, who is also the Bukit Gelugor Member of Parliament, said a study of 11 countries, which had abolished the death penalty, had seen a declining rate of murder in 10 of the countries.

The deputy minister said through the special committee to review alternative sentences to death sentences chaired by former Chief Justice Tun Richard Malanjum, the government had looked into the proposals made.

When asked whether the government could expect opposition from family members and interest groups over the abolishment of the death penalty, Ramkarpal said the government will continue to explain the matter, and engage and meet with them.

He also said that the committee chaired by Malanjum had also met such groups in the preparation of its report.

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