Criminal lawyers today threw their support behind a proposal to abolish the mandatory death sentence for drug-trafficking offences, saying it was a step in the right direction.
However, they took it a step further by urging Putrajaya to abolish capital punishment for all serious crimes.
They said the aim of sentencing was to serve as a deterrent and to rehabilitate criminals to be useful citizens in society, but taking one’s life was a form of retaliation by the state against the offender.
They also doubted that the mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking, which came into force about 30 years ago, had helped check the drugs menace.
Lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad said it was good news that Putrajaya was toying with the idea to do away with death sentence, beginning with trafficking cases.
“I am against this severest form of punishment and want the death penalty abolished for other serious crimes as well,” said the human rights lawyer.
He said traffickers could be jailed and whipped and later asked to do community service upon release from prison.
“Our existing jail term for serious crimes is up to 30 years, and the maximum whipping of 24 strokes could be used a deterrent,” Amer (pic, left) said.
The lawyer said public interest would also be served if criminals were rehabilitated to be useful to their families and society later on.
“The convicts must be given a second chance to turn over a new leaf,” he added.
Amer said this in response to Putrajaya’s plans to table a bill in March next year to abolish the mandatory death penalty for trafficking cases.
De facto law minister Nancy Shukri told the Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday that judges would be given discretion to impose the death penalty, a scenario which existed before 1985.
The Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 was amended to make it mandatory for the court to impose the death sentence once the accused person was found guilty of trafficking.
Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali also told The Malaysian Insider that he would propose to the Cabinet that the mandatory death penalty be scrapped, adding it was a “paradox”, as it robbed judges of their discretion to impose sentences.
Mandatory death sentence is imposed in Malaysia in cases involving murder, certain firearm offences, drug-trafficking and treason.
Lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik said judges should be given the option based on the facts and circumstances of each case, whether to send the accused person to jail or to the gallows.
Citing an example, he said one is presumed to be a trafficker for being in possession of 200gm and above of cannabis.
“The court could impose a jail term if the quantity of drugs is small,” said Hisyam who mostly represented clients in drug related cases.
The lawyer said some of his clients charged were mules and those who were framed to take the fall.
Hisyam said these days it was an uphill task for an accused to obtain acquittal once defence is called.
“The burden shifts to the accused and the defence must rebut the presumption of trafficking in order to secure an acquittal,” he said.
Senior lawyer Datuk V. Sithambaram said taking one’s life was a medieval form of punishment and akin to “an eye for an eye”, like imposing the death sentence on murderers.
Sithambaram, a former co-chairman of the Bar Council’s criminal law committee, said he doubted if the mandatory death sentence on traffickers had effectively helped reduce the drugs menace over the years.
He said capital punishment had been done away with in many developed countries as it failed to serve as a deterrent to would-be criminals.
Sithambaram said while many indulged in the crime for their greed of money, there were others who got involved due to poverty.
He added there was no remedy when a person had been hanged, only to find out later that the accused was not involved in the crime. – November 19, 2015
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