Suicide decriminalisation: Table repeal at next Dewan Rakyat sitting, govt told

20 Jan 2023 08:00pm
The call to decriminalise suicide had been highlighted for several years. - Photo: 123RF
The call to decriminalise suicide had been highlighted for several years. - Photo: 123RF

SHAH ALAM – The government needs to table the revision of archaic law Section 309 of the Penal Code at the next Dewan Rakyat sitting to show its seriousness to decriminalise suicide attempts in the country.

At the time, Section 309 of the Penal Code states that those who were unsuccessful in their suicide attempt can be jailed for up to a year or be fined, or both.

On Tuesday, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Legislation and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said stated that the government intended to revise Section 309 so that it would be more relevant and in line with the current developments.

Former Bar Council president Salim Bashir Bhaskaran when asked to comment about the move said that Azalina’s suggestion to reignite the earlier proposals to decriminalise attempted suicide was a move in the right direction.

“The government must revisit the archaic law by tabling for its repeal at the next Dewan Rakyat’s sitting.

“Those who have suicidal thoughts should be treated with care and compassion rather than being treated as criminals and sentenced in court.

“The government should advocate for mental health to those in high-risk groups who are dealing with financial difficulties, unemployment, family issues, abuse, or the death of loved ones,” he told Sinar Daily.

In the meantime, Salim opined that the government should impose a moratorium on the crime until the suicide statute was repealed.

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Echoing Salim’s view, lawyer Syahredzan Johan agreed on the viability of the revision of Section 309 as proposed by the government, but it would require an amendment to the Penal Code.

Syahredzan, who is also the Bangi MP believed the move would not take too long since Section 309 was not a complicated section and presumably, they were not looking at a replacement.

“An amendment bill would need to be tabled in Parliament and passed by both Houses (Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara),” he added.

However, lawyer Alex Anton Netto had a differing view as he believed that the process would take a long time as it would require inputs from relevant agencies.

“The process will take time because a thorough study would have to be carried out by the law ministry and then a paper would be produced for input from the relevant agencies such as the Attorney General’s Chambers, Bar Council, and more,” he said when contacted.

Optimistically, he expressed his hope to see something concrete by end of the year because it was high time for the government to decriminalise suicide and move towards understanding and hopefully rehabilitating those who have taken proactive steps to end their lives.

On the review of Section 309 of the Penal Code, lawyer Fatihah Jamhari also agreed that this would be the best time to abolish the section on attempted suicide.

“Given that mental health advocacy has grown in recent years and the stigma associated with mental illnesses and suicide isn’t what it used to be, I believe the time has come to repeal the section on attempted suicide.

“It (the section) doesn’t stop a mentally ill, depressed, or stressed person from attempting or committing suicide,” she stressed.

Azalina had said that attempted suicide was a criminal offence imported from the Indian Penal Code by British colonialists.

She claimed that despite the United Kingdom abolishing the crime in 1961, Section 309 of the Penal Code still remains in Malaysian law.

Azalina stressed that criminal punishment might not be the answer to mental health problems and that she was committed to revise Section 309 of the Penal Code.

The move to decriminalise suicide attempts was lauded, and instead of ‘punishing’ the victims, experts believe that the government should focus on victims’ treatment and recovery instead.

The call to decriminalise suicide had been highlighted for several years.

In 2021, then Home Ministry and Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) agreed to abolish the crime of attempted suicide, which means that it would not be a punishable offence.

AGC was examining the legal options and implications of the decriminalisation, and also called for a holistic approach on the issue of suicide, however the section still remained on the Penal Code up until today.

This left the status of the decriminalisation of suicide to be questionable up until it was raised again by Azalina.

In September last year, then Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said that the decision on whether to decriminalise suicide was up to the Cabinet.

A memorandum for a moratorium on the on the prosecution and conviction involving attempted suicides had been handed over to the Cabinet and a study was supposed to be carried out by the AGC before any decision was taken.

The result would be discussed with stakeholders including Home Ministry and police.

In March last year, then law minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said a study on proposed amendments to the law to decriminalise suicide attempts was almost finished and would be submitted to the Cabinet for approval.

He said the government had, via the AGC, taken the initiative to study laws related to attempted suicide and abetment of such attempts, due to statistics showing the growing number of attempted suicides across all ages.

It was reported that Malaysia saw an 81 per cent increase in suicide cases in 2021, with 1,142 cases reported last year as compared to 631 cases in 2020.

It was also reported that since March 2020, the Health Ministry received more than 307,000 calls of which 74.3 per cent were made by individuals who needed emotional support and counselling due to chronic stress, depression as well as anxiety due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For those who needed psychosocial support, counselling for stress, anxiety, and loss of hope, contact Women, Family and Community Development Ministry Talian Kasih at 15999 or reach out to The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur at 03-7627 292.

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