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Make death sentence non-mandatory and subject to judges' discretion

Dr Ko Chung Sen  |  Published:  |  Modified:

ADUN SPEAKS | In Malaysia, the death sentence has been an integral part of the Penal Code since the time of independence. It was even made mandatory for certain offences, including possession of firearms and drugs. However, a bill to abolish the death sentence may be presented to Parliament next week.

The arguments for and against abolishing the death sentence are many. I would like to state beforehand that I am against the mandatory death sentence as practised at the moment in this country.

However, I am also against the total abolishment of the death sentence as suggested. As we can see, there have been many heinous crimes that cause public outrage, from serial murders or sexual abuse to the death of an infant recently.

The common arguments against the death sentence are that:

1. A state has no right to take away the life of an individual

Every individual’s life is his or her basic human right that is recognised worldwide. Cases where death sentences were overturned on appeal, or upon the emergence of new evidence, were always quoted as the reason why innocent lives might be lost.

However, the “individual” loses this right once the person oversteps into the forbidden areas of crimes defined by laws that may result in the death sentence, especially if he or she took away the lives of other people.

Ironically, many countries in the world that ban the death sentence have also legalised abortions. What gives these states the right to say it is acceptable to take the lives of unborn children?

It is certain that these aborted foetuses were 100 percent innocent and had no chance to do any wrongs whatsoever. Yet those who claim to defend the innocent can condone abortions that are performed for non-medical reasons.

The second scenario is that our soldiers are required to kill when commanded. An enemy soldier can be killed even if he has not fired a shot. His only “crime” is that he was born in an enemy country.

The third scenario is that our police are to shoot if necessary to stop a criminal that can be a danger, like one who is brandishing a knife. A person who has yet to commit a crime may be killed before he is even given a chance to be tried in court.

In Malaysia, a person who is found to have murdered many people in a terror attack with multiple witnesses and evidence will go through a full trial, with defence lawyers, appeal process and appeal process to the highest court, and many years on the death roll with no new evidence emerging. To say it is wrong for the state to consider the death sentence is bending the arguments too much to the other extreme.

2. The death sentence has proven not to deter criminals from committing crimes

The death sentence definitely will not deter determined criminals. However, it does deter many people from breaking the law. Similarly, life sentences and caning will not deter would-be criminals as well.

The death sentence was not enacted as a deterrent; it was enacted from ancient times to be the punishment for the most heinous of crimes.

It was also the justice and closure needed by families of the victims for them to move on after the loss of their loved ones. The judges can always take into account the wishes of the families concerned.

3. A life sentence is a worse punishment for the wrongdoers than a death sentence

This is contradictory in the way that people who claim to be concerned about human rights want to impose a worse penalty on the wrongdoers.

Certainly, some wrongdoers will be worse off with a life sentence. However, all ordinary criminals would prefer a life sentence to a death sentence. Those who suggest that a life sentence is worse appear not to be in tune with the common people at all.

In summary, I am supportive of the idea to abolish the mandatory death sentence.

However, the death sentence was a part of every justice system in the past. People have also been sentenced to death for war crimes after World War II. 

Based on the survey done by New Straits Times Online, Berita Harian Online and Harian Metro that showed 82 percent of netizens are against the total abolishment of the death sentence, Malaysia should amend the process by first abolishing the mandatory death sentence.

In cases such as those involving a drug mule, the mandatory death sentence should be abolished and judges given the right to exercise their wisdom in each individual case.

DR KO CHUNG SEN is the state legislative assemblyperson for Kepayang, Perak.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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