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Time to abolish death penalty

Publication Date : 24-10-2012


The wheels of justice never stop turning. Throughout history, they have evolved to take into account the changing circumstances of society, the value systems, the opening up of new knowledge frontiers and also technological innovations.

But justice in the legal system is a constant, in that it is premised on the firm belief that all men are entitled to equal protection before the law. The administration of justice must be fair and transparent.

And, for all civilised societies, justice must always be tempered with mercy.

It is in this context that we should examine the statement made by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nazri Aziz about the government looking into the possibility of abolishing the mandatory death sentence for drug offences.

One of the reasons, he said, is that it is difficult to appeal to other countries not to hang Malaysians when our country has the same penalty for the same offences.

Close to 250 Malaysians have been arrested as drug mules and sentenced to death abroad, including in China, Venezuela and Peru.

But the issue of the death penalty goes beyond that.

More than two-thirds of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.

Of the 58 nations that still have the death penalty in their statutes, only 18 are known to carry out executions. Sadly, Malaysia is among those countries where the death penalty is mandatory for crimes such as murder, possession of firearms, waging war against the King and drug trafficking.

Various people, from politicians and lawyers to anti-death penalty advocates, have regularly voiced their views on this issue. So, too, the common folk whose views for and against the death penalty are often determined by some controversial case at that time.

Even retired judges have weighed in on the debate and spoken about their personal anguish and difficulty in passing the death sentence.

One retired Court of Appeal judge said: “The law is the law but I wish Parliament would abolish the death sentence because if a mistake is made, it would be irreversible. There are other ways of dealing with heinous crimes.”

The ball is actually in the court of our august house. It is time our MPs engage in a full debate on the death penalty. If need be, a select committee can be set up to seek the views of as many people as possible.

We must have an intelligent discourse on this issue so that we can separate emotions from the facts.

It is normal, when emotions run high, for some people to even call for the death penalty to be imposed on snatch thieves, baby dumpers and other lesser criminals.

And in any debate on the death penalty, it would also be timely to look into the other parallel issue of mandatory sentences.

Again, when the ruling of a particular court case does not resonate with the court of public opinion, there will always be calls to make it mandatory for judges to mete out specific punishment.

A mandatory sentence ties the hand of the presiding judge to weigh every offence on its merits, taking into account the circumstances of the case. It does not allow a judge to exhibit compassion even when justice cries out for it.

Let us be clear that the death penalty is irreversible, and any miscarriage of justice comes at the very heavy price of a life lost needlessly.

And research has also shown that the death penalty has not been an effective deterrent against the crimes it is supposed to minimise. It is time to abolish it.


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