Move to review mandatory death penalty for drug cases prudent: M'sian Bar

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KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Bar has welcomed the government’s move to review Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, with a view to removing the mandatory death penalty and restoring judicial discretion in sentencing.

Its president George Varughese said the move is prudent and just, as the decision on whether to impose the death penalty should be left to the discretion of the Judge.

He was responding to a statement by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of legal affairs, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said that, following a presentation by Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali, the Cabinet has agreed to review Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952.

It was reported that the Minister has directed that the necessary legislative amendments be drafted.

“The statutory imposition of the mandatory punishment prohibits Judges from considering mitigating factors and circumstances that surround each case, before sentencing.

“Such mitigating factors can include, and are not limited to, the offender’s age, rehabilitation goals, past criminal record, role played in the offence, mental capacity, reparations made, fear of another person, use of violence, harm done to property or persons, and degree of cooperation with the authorities,” he said.

Varughese said furthermore, studies have shown that there is no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty, particularly in respect of drug offences.

“Given the imminent amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, the Malaysian Bar renews our call to the government to officially declare and implement a moratorium on all pending executions,” he said.

He added that in the interest of justice and fairness, no executions should be carried out when reforms are in progress.

“It is only right that when the reforms come into effect, they should be applied retrospectively,” he said.

Varughese said while the proposed review relates only to the mandatory death penalty as provided in the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, the Malaysian Bar reiterates that the death penalty is an extreme, abhorrent and inhumane punishment, irrespective of the crime committed.

There are also provisions for the imposition of the mandatory death penalty in the Penal Code and Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971, and of the discretionary death penalty in the Kidnapping Act 1961.

“The Malaysian Bar calls upon the government to act swiftly to abolish the death penalty for all crimes, and to uphold the right to life, which is absolute, universal and inalienable,” he said.