The Guardian: Malaysia set to scrap mandatory death penalty for range of serious crimes

Reforms in mandatory death penalty legislation could see reprieves for 1300 prisoners on death row. 

The Malaysian Parliament has approved a bill that would eradicate mandatory death penalty sentences for serious crimes. Currently, the death penalty is mandated for crimes such as murder, drug trafficking, treason, kidnapping, and acts of terror. The Courts, under this new Bill, would have the discretion of handing down sentences between 30-40 years, which would also replace natural life imprisonment. 

Deputy Law Minister Ramkarpal Singh called these reforms a ‘significant step’ forward for the Malaysian criminal justice system. The reform is evidence of the Malaysian government's commitment to reform, and consistently renewing and improving legislation to ensure just outcomes can be met. The new reforms could also see a reduction in the number of foreigners being handed the death penalty, a positive step forward in the attainment of justice. 

Currently, Malaysia has about 1318 individuals on death row, including 842 of these individuals who have exhausted all their avenues of appeal. The Bill provides them with an opportunity to attain justice and further protects their own human and civil rights. The majority of individuals currently on death row are linked to drug trafficking offenses. 

Upon the Bill coming into effect, current prisoners will have a period of 90 days to file a review for their sentences, but not their convictions. Whilst the Bill is a positive step forward, the Court is still allowed discretion to ascertain whether or not the death penalty sentence should be upheld after an official review. The Bill is yet to enter the Upper House and the King for deliberation, however, it is anticipated this will shortly become law. 

Malaysia has had a moratorium on hanging since 2018, and it was proposed by the government in 2022 that the death penalty should be abolished, however, this move was halted as a result of parliament being dissolved for the general election. Dobby Chew of ADPAN stated that there would be a ‘narrower’ view of the application of the death penalty, extending to only three offense groups; murder, drug trafficking, and treason. Whilst this reform brings Malaysia closer in line with international standards for nations who retain the death penalty, it will be interesting to see the progression of this Bill into concrete law, and the effect it will ultimately have on Malaysia’s place in the international community. 

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