Everything you need to know about the decriminalisation of attempted suicide in Malaysia

Our country made history recently after the Dewan Rakyat unanimously approved several Bills that would decriminalise attempted suicide in Malaysia. A move several years in the making, the decriminalisation of attempted suicide was lauded by the de facto Deputy Law Minister Ramkarpal Singh as a stepping stone to help those in need.

However, amending something that has been part of the Malaysian legal system since before independence is not without its challenges. As mentioned earlier, the move required the amendments of several laws, including the Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and the Mental Health Act.

Besides that, the changes also include making the abetment of any suicide attempts a criminal offence. These include abetment by cyberbullies encouraging victims to end their own lives through online platforms.

So, what do the amendments to decriminalise attempted suicide entail? How did attempted suicide become a crime in Malaysia in the first place?

Well, join us as we go in-depth into the matter below

A brief history of the criminalisation of attempted suicide in Malaysia

Being an ex-British colony, our country’s legal system and laws can be traced back to the English Common Law. Historically, attempted suicide had been considered a crime in England and Wales, from which the Common Law legal system is derived from. The law itself was established from the religious tenets of Christianity, whereby the act of “intentionally taking one’s own life” is viewed as sinful and an act of blasphemy.

However, the criminalisation of attempted suicide in our country’s laws are similar to the Indian Penal Code. Specifically, Section 309 of our Penal Code was incorporated from the Indian Penal Code by the British colonial administration.

Afterwards, when our country achieved independence in 1957, we inherited the common law system and with it, the Penal Code provisions in relation to attempted suicide. Besides Section 309, two other provisions in relation to attempted suicide were also incorporated into the Penal Code.

These are Section 305 and Section 306 which made the abetment of suicide against children and incapacitated persons, respectively. as criminal offences. These laws remained the same up until the recent amendments, despite the origin country of the law, the United Kingdom decriminalising suicide way back in 1961.

As of the time of writing up until the amendments get approval from the Dewan Negara and are presented to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for royal assent, Section 309 prescribes a prison term of up to one year, a fine or both upon conviction. Meanwhile, Section 306 prescribes a penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment and a fine, and Section 306 provides a punishment of up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine.

What will the amendments change?

Of course, one of the main changes brought forth by the amendments is deleting Section 309 of the Penal Code below:

This is part of the Penal Code (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill approved by the Dewan Rakyat on 22 May 2023. With the removal of the provision, attempted suicide would no longer be a criminal offence in Malaysia.

Moreover, the same Bill also substituted Section 305 of the Penal Code to include the abetment of the commission of attempted suicide of a child or a person who lacks mental capacity. Currently, Section 305 only provides for the offence of abetment of suicide of a child, an insane person a delirious person and idiot, or a person in a state of intoxication.

Lastly, the Bill also prescribes the abetting of any suicide attempts as a criminal offence under Section 306 of the Penal Code. Currently, the provision only states that it is an offence to abet in the commission of a suicide which is punishable with an imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine.

In relation to the above, the amendments also cover the action of cyberbullies found abetting or influencing the suicides of children and those who are mentally disabled as a criminal offence. This move was made in order to protect people from online bullying which could lead to suicide as they are cyberbullies who are involved in encouraging victims to end their own lives through online platforms.

As a consequence of the Penal Code (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, the Dewan Rakyat also approved the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment No 2) Bill. This is so that the Criminal Procedure Code would be consistent with the changes to the Penal Code.

Lastly, the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2023 was also approved to define the position and powers of crisis intervention officers under Section 11 of the Mental Health Act 2001. Under this amendment, these officers are allowed to apprehend any person believed to show mental instability and pose a danger to themselves, others or to property.

With all that in mind, the move to decriminalise attempted suicide in our country is definitely welcomed, as it is a step in the right direction. The criminalisation of attempted suicide itself is an archaic law that is proven to not be effective in deterring suicides.

Worse, it has also caused the mental health issue to be stigmatised and treated as any other crime when these individuals need to be helped. Penal sanctions should never be the answer to mental health problems.

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