Answered: 10 questions on how royal pardons work in Malaysia

Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is probably the most high-profile prisoner known to be seeking a royal pardon in his criminal case currently, as he hopes for an early release from a 12-year jail term.

(MMO) – How does the pardon process work in Malaysia? Here’s what we know:

1. Who can file a pardon petition and how often can this be done?

When contacted, former Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir Bhaskaran told Malay Mail that seeking a pardon is considered after a person has exhausted all their legal remedies in court.

He said a petition for pardon can be filed by the prisoner himself, his family or by others on his behalf — such as a foreign embassy. (For example, the Selangor Sultan reduced a Philippine citizen’s death sentence to life imprisonment in 2015, after appeals made by the family and the Philippine embassy.)

The prisoner can send such a petition for pardon for the second time after three years from his conviction date and can subsequently continue to send such petitions every two years, unless there are any “special circumstances”.

Apart from these rules on the frequency for the filing of pardon applications, Salim said there are “no limits” on the number of times it can be filed.

While Umno last Friday said it will appeal to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for Najib to be pardoned, a 2015 news report cited the Perak Sultan as reminding prisoners to seek for pardons personally instead of forwarding or filing them through a “third party”.

In a written parliamentary reply on November 15, 2016, minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said told Ipoh Barat MP M. Kulasegaran that pardon bids can be filed by a prisoner, his family, his lawyers, non-governmental organisations and the Prisons Department, based on regulations 113 and 114 of the Prisons Regulations 2000.

For prisoners serving jail sentences of more than seven years, the Prisons Department would present a report every four years, and then every year after the 16th year for review on the prisoners’ sentence, in line with Regulation 54, she had said.

Under Regulation 54, the report to be forwarded to the Rulers should include statements on the prisoners’ work, conduct, mental and physical condition and effect of imprisonment on his health, with the Rulers able to decide whether to cut short part of the jail term or grant an early release.

2. Who do you appeal to?

It all depends on where you committed the offence.

Based on the Federal Constitution’s Article 42(1), the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has the power to grant pardon for offences committed within the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan, while state Rulers have the power to grant pardon for offences committed in the states.

3. Who sits on the Pardons Board?

Under the Federal Constitution’s Article 42, the Pardons Board for each state comprises Malaysia’s attorney general (AG), the state’s chief minister, and a maximum of three other members appointed by the state ruler or the Yang di-Pertua Negeri. The state Ruler or the Yang di-Pertua Negeri would also preside over the state Pardons Board’s meetings.

For the Federal Territories, the Pardons Board comprises Malaysia’s AG, the Federal Territories minister, and a maximum of three other members appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong chairs meetings of the Federal Territories Pardons Board.

4. Can you submit court judgments for your pardon application?

Salim said prisoners can submit “anything relevant” to the Pardons Board when seeking a pardon and agreed this could include court judgments if “relevant”.

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