Law Minister Says Criminal Punishment Won't Resolve Mental Health Problems

According to Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, the government intends to revise Section 309 of the Penal Code to decriminalise suicide.

Cover image via Berita Harian & iStock

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Minister in the Prime Minister's office (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said believes that criminal punishment is not the answer to mental health problems

Azalina said that Malaysia inherited numerous laws from the British colonial era, including the Penal Code.

While the UK decriminalised suicide in 1961, Section 309 of the Penal Code still remains in Malaysian law, she added.

"Criminal punishment may not be the answer to mental health problems, which is why I am committed to revising Section 309 of the Penal Code," Sinar Daily quoted her as saying yesterday, 17 January.

Currently, those who are charged under Section 309 of the Penal Code may be punished with imprisonment for up to a year, a fine, or both, upon conviction.

Minister in the Prime Minister's office (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

Image via Berita Harian

Azalina further stated that legal terminology could shape public perception and also influence community behaviour regarding an issue

"If legal terminology holds a negative connotation, then it may cause stigma and discrimination against certain communities," Azalina said.

"For example, the words 'dumb witness' and 'idiot' are still being used in the Evidence Act and the Penal Code," she said, adding that she will look further into this matter due to the current criminalisation of attempted suicide.

"The boneless tongue is sharper than a sword so the way I see it, the legal terminology used is not a small affair, but should be given consideration in the law review process."

The Ministry of Health (MOH) was preparing a memorandum to decriminalise suicide in 2021, according to then-Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin

However, the amendments to Section 309 were not tabled due to the dissolution of parliament in October 2022.

Other laws that are set to be reviewed include the Contract Act 1950, the Civil Law Act 1956, the Evidence Act 1950, and the Defamation Act 1957.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

If you or anyone you know is lonely, distressed, or having negative thoughts, please call these Malaysian hotlines:

Contact: +603-76272929
Email: [email protected]
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Contact: 15999
WhatsApp: +6019-2615999
Email: [email protected]
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Daily (12pm - 12am)
Contact: 1800-18-2327
Email: [email protected]
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For a more thorough directory of resources, head over to the websites of Malaysian Mental Health Association or MINDAKAMI.

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