MALAYSIA - Taking away the court's discretionary power in statutory rape cases is the "only way" to ensure deterrent sentences, says Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation vice-chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye.
"While the move may be seen by certain quarters as interfering with judicial discretion, we have to take into account the seriousness of the offence," he said, adding that allowing first-time offenders to get away without jail time could give rise to more child-rape cases.
It was reported yesterday that a Bill would be tabled to disallow judges from handing down lenient sentences to statutory rapists even if they were first offenders.
The Bill would add a provision to Section 376 of the Penal Code, which carries a jail sentence of up to 20 years and whipping.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said the provision would state that Section 294(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code which gives judges discretionary powers to hand out lighter sentences to first-time offenders would not apply to statutory rape cases.
In an immediate reaction, the Bar Council opposed the move, saying that interference with judicial discretion was never welcomed.
Women's Centre for Change programme director Dr Prema Devaraj supported the Bar Council's stand, saying mandatory sentencing "is not the way forward".
"It ignores the social reality of sexually-active teenagers, where one or both parties are below the age of 16," she said,
Given the complexities in statutory rape, including issues of consent and the maturity of parties involved, Dr Prema said judges "must be given the discretion to decide" on sentencing.
However, she added that it was also important that judges were informed of the overall impact of merely binding over first-time offenders and be sensitive to current realities.